Sinister ties between software piracy and malware brought to light in new study

Rather than hacking consumer PCs as well as home- and business networks, cybercriminals are starting to rely upon the software piracy industry.

March 19, 2014

Rather than hacking consumer PCs as well as home- and business networks, cybercriminals are starting to rely upon the software piracy industry to leave the ‘security backdoor’ open, enabling them to more easily steal identities, passwords and your banking login details.

A new study entitled The Link Between Pirated Software and Cybersecurity Breaches has revealed that industrious cybercriminals are employing malware embedded within PCs that are running pirated software, which have been sold to unsuspecting consumers or companies.

This global study conducted by IDC and the National University of Singapore (NUS) surveyed 1,700 consumers, IT workers, CIOs, as well as government officials within countries ranging from Brazil through to the United States. In addition, IDC and the NUS also analysed 203 computers that were purchased in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and the US. These computers were pre-infected with unsafe malware including Trojans, worms, viruses, hacktools, rootkits and adware.

The study was released today as part of Microsoft’s Play It Safe campaign, which is a global initiative to create greater awareness of the connection between malware and piracy.

Drastic economic implications
According to the study, global enterprises are expected to spend nearly $500 billion in 2014 in order to deal with issues caused by malware deliberately loaded onto pirated software. The majority of this total, around $364 billion, is expected to be used to deal with data breaches, whilst the rest ($127 billion) will be spent on security issues.

When it comes to consumers though, clients are expected to fork out $25 billion and waste a whopping 1.2 billion hours this year alone as a result of security threats as well as costly computer fixes, which stem from malware on pirated software.

Furthermore, the study revealed that 60% of consumers surveyed said that their greatest fear from infected software is the loss of data, whether this data takes the form of files or personal information. Following the fear of data theft was that of unauthorized internet transactions (51%) and hijacking of email, social networking and bank accounts (50%). However, 43% of those same respondents do not install security updates, meaning that despite their fears, they are leaving their computers vulnerable to attack by cybercriminals.

Government officials expressed concern about the potential impact of cybersecurity threats to their nations. The primary areas of concern for these institutions were the loss of business trade secrets or competitive information (59%), unauthorized access to confidential government information (55%), as well as the impact of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure (55%). It is estimated that governments could lose more than $50 billion due to them having to deal with the costs associated with malware on pirated software.

How to avoid buying malware-infested PCs
Whether you are an individual user, a small business, enterprise or even a government institution, you are encouraged to buy new computers from reputable sources to ensure that they receive genuine software.
Microsoft is committed to protecting unsuspecting consumers from downloading or purchasing non-genuine software that exposes victims to malware that can lead to identity theft, loss of data and system failures.

Zoaib Hoosen, COO at Microsoft South Africa says: “At Microsoft we appreciate that victims of software piracy are often regular customers simply looking for a deal, who are often paying nearly full price for what turns out to be malware-laden pirated software. Microsoft reminds customers to ‘Play It Safe’. Ask questions, investigate the packaging, watch out for ‘too good to be true’ prices and demand genuine software – to ensure you get what you pay for and protect your family or your business from the threat of malware associated with pirated or counterfeit software. For more information go to www.howtotell.com.”

Customers are encouraged to visit http://www.microsoft.com/security to learn more about malware and ensure that their PCs are not infected, and in the event that malware is present, users have access to the tools they will need to remove the infection