Radiohead, Coldplay, The Charlatans - Music download revolution : How do I protect my computer?

Bill Cummings 19/05/2008

With more and more artists going down the “Quick! Download our songs for free!” route, the threat to internet users from malicious sources grows ever larger. We look at the explosion in digital music distribution and ask how do you protect your computer when downloading files from the internet?

The way that music is distributed is shifting drastically, gone are the days when the record shop offered a plethora of musical bounty, firstly file sharing programmes allowed us to trade in mp3s, then blogs opened our minds to new artists, now the artists themselves are giving us free music. In label limbo Radiohead's decision to initially allow their latest album “In Rainbows” as a “pay whatever you want for it” download(downloaded over one and a half million times at last estimate) to fans has sparked a flurry of copycats including The Charlatans who released their album digitally through XFM and Nine Inch Nails who are making their next releases completely available to fans on their website. This model is even being used by massive label acts Coldplay's “Violet Hill” was recently downloaded a massive 600,000 times in the first 24 hours it was available.

According to the BPI, in 2007 there were over 77 million legal downloads, up from 52 million in 2006. 2008 looks to beat that comprehensively, with ERA Digital reporting that in the first quarter of 2008, digital downloads grew by 42% compared with the same period in 2007. This shift is set to continue, (at last) it's changing the way that even major labels use downloads as a way of allowing consumers to get(often free) quality legal downloads, and not before time when you consider how long the likes of Napster and Kezza have been trading on illegal often poor quality downloads for years. Quite apart from the much talked about impact upon the music scene what damage can downloads potentially do to our personal computers?
With an estimated digital spend of 600m by 2012, there is an even bigger incentive for hackers and phishing scams to get hold of your personal details. Recently, there has been reports of viruses disguised as MP3s appearing on file sharing networks enticing users to enter their personal information. In 2007 there was a worm (called w32.deletemusic) that, when on your system, would systematically wipe all of your mp3s - not good.

So, before we turn against the musical revolution, what do we need to know?

• Spam, e-mails: the annoying e-mails which fill your inbox as well as those that contain a link which tempt you into entering personal information
• Rogue websites: web addresses that re-direct you to a rogue site
• Legitimate websites: embedded videos or music that 'drop' malicious programs onto your computer when you click play
• Software updates: popular ones like ActiveX can force unprotected browsers into running ActiveX programs that force you into opening malicious files
• Spyware: applications that steal your data and send it to a third party
• Adware, pop ups: software that displays advertising on your PC, click on it at your peril!
• Bots: software that is controlled from an outside source when installed on your PC.

What tools are available?

• Anti-virus software: Install the latest software and regularly update its list of known viruses
• Firewalls: A firewall is a 'real time' barrier that only allows your computer to make legitimate connections
• Junk email filters: Most e-mail clients are using sophisticated tools to filter 'spam' and junk mail, but some still slips into your inbox - if in doubt, don't open it!
What else can I do?
• Browse the internet safely: Beware of strange looking web addresses. If the site you're visiting is unfamiliar to you, only proceed if you're absolutely sure the webpage will be safe
• Stop spyware: If you load a website that asks you to run a program that you weren't warned about, it's most likely to be malicious
• Secure wireless networks: If you're using wireless broadband, make sure that it is password protected and there is a firewall installed in your router (most come with one built in)
• Get software updates: Make sure your software is updated to the latest version. Internet browsers and operating systems are most at risk from hackers so constantly update their software with new security features.

If you follow these basic rules, you can download music and worry less about what might happen to your computer, and more about how you're going to fit everything onto your iPod.
For a free online antivirus scan, visit

We have ten copies of Trend Micro Internet Security 2008(it's licensed for three pcs so you can do all the machines in your house if you need too) to give away, simply tell us which band sparked this recent so called revolution in music distribution with their album In Rainbows? Send your answers to bill@godisinthetvzine.co.uk by the 1st of June.