Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fake software invites attacks

Using fake software is vastly different from a fake DVD or CD. Watching a fake, or counterfeit DVD, may not provide the same quality of entertainment. Sound may be poor, it may freeze, or sometimes may not even play at all. However, it does not cause your DVD player to malfunction or your TV to explode. Using fake software on the other hand can be more than a little expensive.

Risks of counterfeit software

A few years back one virus doing the rounds was the Conficker worm. It was spread by email and infected site, but also by fake copies of software. All users of Windows XP and Windows Vista were vulnerable though those properly running an up-to-date version of a Norton security solutions were unlikely to contract the virus. Users who do not have a genuine version of Windows from Microsoft are most at risk since pirated system usually cannot get Microsoft updates and patches [Symantec].

Many people feel there is nothing wrong with piracy, and while there are valid arguments suggesting prices of the legitimate product are too high, the same can be true of the 'cheap' fake. Microsoft recently carried out a study which suggested that one in three people thought that using software piracy was satisfactory and were largely ignorant of the dangers involved such as identity theft or virus attacks [Telegraph / Microsoft].

"People need to understand that there are inherent risks to their own security, including identity theft, from using pirated software products and that they can often be the victim of other's criminal actions, such as an employer using pirated software in the workplace," said Susie Winter from the Alliance Against IP Theft.

The report highlighted the consequences people have faced by using pirated software. It found pirated software to have led to an introduction of a computer virus in 62% of cases, a loss of personal data in 31% of experiences and caused a user's computer to crash in 38% of all cases.

As well as the dangers from counterfeit software, computer users still need to be aware of the dangers of simply browsing the web. Cyber attacks, such as spam emails and computer hacking, cost businesses around the world during 2009 an average of £1.2 million, according to a recent Symantec report [Telegraph].

Microsoft fights back

Even if your fake copy of Windows doesn't contain a virus, it may present a problem on exiting China. In 2005 Microsoft introduced an anti-piracy strategy that turns the users screen black when it detects that an improper copy of Windows is running. Users can switch it back manually, only to have the process repeat itself every 60 minutes amid a stream of warnings: "You may be the victim of pirated software." [LA Times]

The Redmond, Wash.-based company's Windows Genuine Advantage initiative, started in 2005 to fight software piracy, goes further in China than in other countries. Microsoft says it wants to protect its intellectual property and help users avoid virus attacks. But the program has left many users disgruntled in a market where pirated software is widespread.

"No matter how severe the anti-piracy efforts are, Chinese users will figure out how to get around them," said Yang Fangzhou, a 25-year-old brokerage worker from Fujian province. "Most people here don't want to spend the money, and have no moral qualms about using pirated software."

Recent polls on Chinese Web portals, including, and, found most respondents used pirated copies of Windows XP and Vista, and more than 70% strongly disliked Windows Genuine Advantage. In 2008, Beijing attorney Dong Zhengwei sent a complaint to China's Ministry of Public Security urging the police to go after Microsoft for economic damage and collective inconvenience. He termed the company's program a "hacker-style attack" that infringed on users' privacy.

Fake anti-virus software

An even more worrying report this week pointing to the rise in fake 'anti-virus' software being downloaded by computer users. In research conducted by Internet search giant Google it found an alarming rise in such activity. "The fake antivirus threat is rising in prevalence, both absolutely and relative to other forms of web-based malware," said Google in its findings. "Clearly, there is a definitive upward trend in the number of new fake antivirus domains that we encounter each week."

"Surprisingly, many users fall victim to these attacks and pay to register the fake antivirus software. To add insult to injury, fake antivirus programs are often bundled with other malware, which remains on a victim's computer, regardless of whether a payment is made." [Telegraph]

Fake software is becoming more widespread around the world, but it is in Asia, countries like Thailand and China, which are seeing the biggest breaches of copyright infringement. An estimated 82% of software in China is pirated, according to the Business Software Alliance industry group, compared with 93% for world leader Armenia and 20% for the U.S.In a country like China, where fake is the order of the day, many so-called netizens may find out the hard way what IP infringement can lead to. Even if their ID isn't stolen along with their bank balance, they well be staring at a blank screen.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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