Malware in pirated software is costing us all billions

A new study from Microsoft highlights the dangers and costs associated with malware in pirated software.

Criminals, by their very nature, can’t be trusted. It may seem like a bargain to be able to get pirated software cheap, or even free, but when you acquire software illegally you also open yourself up to other risks and security concerns. The cybercriminals that distribute the pirated software aren’t just acting as Robinhood-esque philanthropists. There are ulterior, insidious motives as well, and that’s why malware in pirated software is costing the world billions of dollars.

Microsoft worked with IDC and the National University of Singapore to investigate the prevalence of malicious code in pirated software, and to explore the link between that malware and organized cybercrime. The study was conducted on 203 computers, spanning 11 nations (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States). The study also includes results of a survey of 951 consumers and 450 IT professionals across 15 nations, and a survey of 302 government officials from six countries.

Researchers determined that there is a 33 percent chance of encountering malware when installing pirated software or purchasing a PC that includes pre-installed pirated software. The forensic analysis of the 203 computers in this study by the National University of Singapore found that 61 percent of the machines that had pirated software installed were also infected by malware.

David Finn, Associate General Counsel and Executive Director of the Microsoft Cybercrime Center, stressed in a blog post that these statistics should not come as a shock. “After all, cybercriminals aim to profit from any security lapse they can find. And through pirated software, they’ve found another way to introduce malware into computer networks – breaking in so they can grab whatever they want: your identity, your passwords and your money.”

IDC estimates that consumers will spend a combined $25 billion, and waste 1.2 billion hours dealing with security issues resulting from malware on pirated software just in 2014. 60 percent of the consumers surveyed listed loss of data or personal information in the top three biggest fears, followed by 51 percent concerned with unauthorized access or online fraud. In spite of these concerns, 43 percent of the consumers surveyed don’t routinely install security updates to keep their PCs protected.

For enterprises, that figure jumps to almost half a trillion dollars. IDC estimates malware in pirated software will cost enterprises $127 billion to deal with security issues, and an additional $364 billion addressing data breaches. That’s half a trillion dollars that could be put to much better use if the risks associated with malware in pirated software could be minimized or completely eradicated.

The Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) is spotlighting the risks associated with pirated software as a part of its annual Play It Safe Day. To help you recognize and avoid pirated software, Microsoft provides tips and resources on the website.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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