Microsoft warns of scourge of counterfeit software

3 Dec 2009

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Consumer reports of counterfeit software – often riddled with viruses – have doubled over the past two years to 150,000, Microsoft has warned.

Microsoft’s head of global anti-piracy enforcement, David Finn, leads a team of lawyers, paralegals, investigators and forensic specialists working with governments, businesses, partners and customers to ensure that people are protected from the perils of non-genuine software.

The top competition

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has called pirated software Microsoft’s “main competition” in the marketplace. According to recent statistics, 41pc of all PCs around the world run counterfeit or unlicensed software.

Consumers, industries and governments face the challenge of addressing increasing piracy and counterfeiting rates and mitigating the risks and harmful impact on individuals, companies and economies.

Microsoft is seeing that more than ever consumers are taking the initiative against counterfeit software by reporting where they purchased pirated software and sharing their stories with Microsoft.

For example, a new customer-driven piracy intelligence tool, CRMS, has collected customer verbatim reports from www.howtotell.com and the WGA and OGA sites. Since January 2009, more than 150,000 people have submitted voluntary reports – double past records.

Consumer Action Day speaker

According to Finn, who was speaking during a Consumer Action Day aimed at highlighting the issue, an increasing number of consumers believe they are at risk if they buy counterfeit software.

“They’re right to be concerned. Today it is all too common for software pirates to tamper with genuine code. Yet this can easily go unnoticed by the average software user. Indeed, the fact that you can’t see what is being added or removed by pirates underscores the insidiousness of the problem.

“Think about it — why wouldn’t a criminal syndicate that manufactures counterfeit software merely add a few lines of malicious code in order to compromise the security of your computer and victimise you a second time by stealing your identity or personal information?

“Having said that, we know a lot of people still think of software counterfeiting as a victimless crime. Yet I think we’ve hit a tipping point. The sheer increase in the rate of counterfeit software reports is remarkable,” Finn said.

Research shows …

He pointed to research from Harrison Group, which found that companies using unlicensed or counterfeit software were 73pc more likely to experience the loss or damage of sensitive data and have critical computer failures lasting 24 hours or more.

“Consumers need to know we’re not talking about some average Joe copying his install disk here. Software piracy has become much more sophisticated. More and more, there are serious criminals engaged in this.”

By John Kennedy

Photo: Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com