Microsoft Corp. today announced a surge of voluntary reports — more than 150,000 in the past two years — from people who unknowingly purchased counterfeit software that was often riddled with viruses or malware. This increase, more than double the amount of previous records, reflects growing concern for the harm caused by counterfeit software and Microsoft’s efforts to give people a voice in the fight against software counterfeiting.
In addition, Microsoft today announced a surge of its own with Consumer Action Day, a simultaneous launch of education initiatives and enforcement actions in more than 70 countries to help protect consumers and increase awareness of the risks of counterfeit software.
“Consumers want action. The majority of our enforcement cases announced today resulted from tips and reports from consumers,” said David Finn, associate general counsel for Worldwide Anti-Piracy and Anti-Counterfeiting at Microsoft. “Consumers who are duped by fraudulent software encounter viruses, lose personal information, risk having their identities stolen, and waste valuable time and money. Today’s announcement demonstrates our commitment to working with others, including our partners, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, to protect people from the ill effects of counterfeit software.”
The software industry has long studied the black market for pirated software and its effects on consumers. One seminal study by IDC in 2006 showed that one in four Web sites offering counterfeit software attempted to install unwanted or malicious code upon downloading. This rate is rising, as found by Media Surveillance, an anti-piracy solutions company based in Germany, when it recently downloaded several hundred pirated copies of Windows and hacks and found that 32 percent contained malicious code. The 2006 IDC white paper also described a review of counterfeit Microsoft software purchased at resellers in 17 countries: more than 50 percent of the discs contained phony code, had malware or could not even be installed. Just two months ago, the BSA October 2009 Internet Piracy Study showed countries with high piracy rates often have high malware infection rates.
“The product we received looked like Microsoft software, but when we tried to install it, we had problems almost immediately,” said Bill Kyne, chief executive officer of 5 Star Financial Services. “We had installation errors and registration errors, right from the start. Both my wife and I have home-based businesses, and we rely heavily on our computers. We were both down a significant amount of time when the pirated software wouldn’t run properly.”
As part of Consumer Action Day, more than 70 countries are launching educational initiatives and enforcement actions to help protect consumers from counterfeit software. Highlights include an intellectual property rights education program in schools across China, an originals club for software resellers in Germany, a risk-of-counterfeit training course for the consumer protection authority in Mexico, a children’s online safety program in Greece, and a study of piracy’s impact on small and midsize businesses in Argentina. An interactive map detailing these efforts around the world today can be found at http://www.howtotell.com.
The effects of malware can range from annoying advertisements to a severe breach of information security. A recent study by Harrison Group Inc. found that companies using unlicensed or counterfeit software were 73 percent more likely to experience the loss or damage of sensitive data, and 73 percent more likely to have critical computer failures lasting 24 hours or more.
Moreover, most people simply find themselves without the software they thought they were paying for. Unable to get a refund from the dealer, some consumers find they need to purchase the product again. Canadian small-business owner Shawn Pelling of Pelling Industries Ltd., said he purchased Microsoft Office software through a vendor he’d not used before.
“I was looking for software for my business and wanted to save us some money,” Pelling said. “After a few weeks of using the software, it turned out that we had been sold a high-quality counterfeit package. I appreciate Microsoft stepping up and helping address this issue.”
Worse yet, today’s counterfeiters are often large criminal syndicates that don’t stop at distributing hundreds of copies of unlicensed software.“Software pirates are likely to create botnets, which are armies of compromised computers controlled by cyber-criminals and used to perform a host of illegal Internet activities,” said Markus Schweitzer of Media Surveillance. In just one recent example, software pirates helped create a botnet army by offering a counterfeit version of Windows, rife with malicious code, which compromised PCs and then ordered them to connect to a server controlled by cyber-criminals.
To address the increasing sophistication of software counterfeiters, Microsoft is enhancing its anti-piracy work on all three fronts: education, engineering and enforcement. Today’s actions around the world emphasize the company’s growing commitment to protect consumers. Tips from customers and partners are vital in helping Microsoft address piracy. Microsoft encourages anyone who receives suspicious software to call the company’s anti-piracy hotline at (800) RU-LEGIT (785-3448)
On the engineering front, Microsoft has improved the product activation and validation process with Windows 7. Windows Activation Technologies in Windows 7 are built off the Software Protection Platform introduced with Windows Vista, which enables Windows to protect itself by detecting when attempts have been made to circumvent or tamper with built-in product activation technology, and helps customers more easily activate the product and resolve potential issues. Windows 7 includes the latest generation of this technology, including changes that allow users to see more informative notification messages and to more easily complete the steps in the process.
When it comes to enforcement, Microsoft has invested in nine Product Identification (PID) Analysis Labs around the world. Forensic experts in these labs use sophisticated tools, such as digital disc fingerprinting and optical manufacturing tracking, to examine counterfeit software and provide critical information to local law enforcement agencies to use in their pursuit of criminal software counterfeiting syndicates. The results are tangible and impactful: Microsoft’s work in its PID Analysis Labs has led to more than 1,000 customs border patrol seizures of counterfeit software in just over two years.
“The global problem of counterfeit software calls for an international response and a strategy that targets sophisticated crime syndicates taking advantage of unwary consumers,” said Kunio Mikuriya, secretary general of the World Customs Organization. “Through vigilance and active feedback to public institutions and companies like Microsoft, consumers and businesses will be instrumental in overcoming this problem. The serious economic consequences generated by this illicit trade make it imperative that we urgently pool our efforts, strengths and expertise to fight this crime.”