Tuesday, October 07, 2008

How Using Pirated Software Turns People into Internet Crime Victims

The Business Software Alliance's October report called Online Software Scams: A Threat to Your Security reveals the dangers of buying or downloading pirated software. Sadly, pirated software doesn't always advertise that it is counterfeit and often appears to be the "real thing" to the untrained eye. This poses a clear and present danger to anyone shopping for software, whether it be on a e-commerce site, peer to peer (P2) site or at a more traditional shopping venue.

In the report's introduction it points to an actual example of how a misguided employee of the Wagner Resource Group of McLean Virginia used his office computer to download video and music files using Limewire and exposed the entire corporation to the dark side of the Internet. "In this case, the Wagner employee’s action set off a terrible chain reaction, opening up the firm’s computers to outsiders and exposing the names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers of about 2,000 of the firm’s clients, including US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, according to the report.

Although many view downloading a video or music file as a victimless crime, the consequences can become personal when cyber criminals add a little malicious software (often referred to as crimeware) to the mix. Specifically, it can lead to identity (information) theft or turn a user's machine into a zombie, which is controlled remotely and used to commit other misdeeds on the Internet.

It is estimated that one-third of all software is counterfeit. In 2008, a study was conducted that revealed that if software piracy could be reduced by 10 percent in the United States it would generate 32,000 new jobs, 41 billion in economic growth and 7 billion in tax revenues.

A lot of pirated software is sold via downloads. When this occurs, the normal form of payment is a credit or debit card. This means that the person, who buys pirated software is providing this information to a criminal, who in turn might use it again or sell it to a third party. Like pirated software, credit/debit card information is sold on the Internet in underground chat rooms.

The report also covers another area, where Internet crime is known to flourish, or auction sites. In 2005, a study was done on software sold on eBay and roughly 50 percent of the items purchased had malicious/unwanted elements or had been tampered with.

While auction sites have worked with outside industries on preventing theft and abuse, they generally disclaim any responsibility for what occurs on their site. Additionally, there is little to no protection for the consumer buying these products (my opinion).

Because of this, the BSA is calling for auction sites to assume responsibility, step up the warning process on their sites and slow the process down by eliminating the "buy it now" process, which makes monitoring illegal sales nearly impossible.

The software industry isn't the only industry calling out issues with auction sites. In August, two bills were introduced to combat crime on auction sites, which were largely supported by the National Retail Federation. The sale of stolen or counterfeit goods in general has long been an issue on these sites. A good resource to learn about the danger of counterfeit goods in general is the International Anticounterfeting Coalition.

The BSA offers a lot of tips for consumers on how to avoid becoming a victim in their recently released report. It also offers a more visual means of learning by offering a video on the subject.

Suspected piracy can also be reported at http://www.bsacybersafety.com/ or by calling 1-888-NO-PIRACY.

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