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Fire sharing networks are big sources of spyware. The newest spyware threat is particularly insidious: spyware that infects your PC when you play a media file using Windows Media Player.

If you use Service Pack 2 and the newest version of Windows Media Player, you’ll be safe from this type of spyware threat.

What if you still want to use file sharing networks and Windows Media Player to play downloaded files? What if you don’t have the latest version of Windows Media Player or Service Pack 2? You can change a few settings to keep yourself safe.

The spyware exploits the way in which Windows Media Player handles what is called “rights management.” In essence, rights management helps Windows Media Player determine the copyright of a file in certain instances. But spyware authors use it as a way to infect your PC. When Windows Media Player tries to open a file with certain rights management, it opens a web page specified by the person who created the file. Spyware authors trick you into downloading spyware using ActiveX controls. They also bombard you with a blizzard of pop ups.

How can you protect yourself? In Windows Media Player, choose Tools > Options > Privacy, and uncheck the “Acquire licenses automatically for protected content” box. From now on, when you open a media file that may infect you with spyware, Media Player shows you the URL where the file claims it can acquire its license. If you click the No button, Media Player will not take you to the website, and you’ll be safe.

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