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Thar IT Blows! The Dangers of Pirated Software

Admit it. You’ve thought about using pirated software at least once in your nonprofit career. After all, you could really use that program and your nonprofit is already tight on budget. What’s the harm of finding a copy online and using it? It’s not like you’re hurting anyone … right?


Pirated software can cost you and your nonprofit a lot of time, money and most importantly, it compromises your data security. There’s a reason pirating software is illegal. 

The Real Cost of Piracy

The International Data Corporation (IDC), an IT market research firm, conducted a study on the prevalence of viruses, malware (ie., malicious software) and other unwanted software — such as keystroke-capturing software and authentication backdoors — in pirated software and on websites and networks that distribute pirated software.

The results of the study are staggering:

  • High Infection Rate. In the process of obtaining or using pirated software, you have a 1 in 3 chance of encountering dangerous malware that will cause irreparable damage (i.e., identity theft, loss of personal data such as credit card and bank information).

  • Lost Time. IDC estimated that users worldwide will spend 1.5 billion hours identifying and repairing the damage caused by malware from pirated software.

  • Financial Cost in the Billions. The total cost of correcting the damage done by malicious software and malware obtained through pirated software is estimated to be $464 billion USD worldwide.

An Infectious Environment

Pirated software and the networks that distribute pirated software have been found to be couriers of viruses, malware, spyware, Trojans, and other unwanted software.

Source: IDC's Dangers of Counterfeit Software Survey, 2013
By visiting the networks alone, IDC detected unauthorized installations of tracking cookies and spyware from 75% of the websites, and installation of Trojans and malicious adware from 14% of the sources. Using the pirated software increased these rates further to 78% for tracking cookies/spyware and 36% for Trojans and malicious adware. 

So I Get A Couple of Pop-up Ads - How Bad Can It Be?

Pretty bad.

Here are some examples of the malware IDC found that were concealed in pirated software:

  • Win32.Generic!BT: A Trojan that provides the attacker with unauthorized remote access to the infected computer.

  • Bprotector: A Trojan that changes the infected computer’s system default settings to make it difficult to remove. It then acts as a door opener for other malware and allows attackers to take control of your computer. It must be removed manually by IT professionals.

  • iBryte: A browser hijacker that makes it seem like your home page is getting live news feeds but it serves up spam ads. Although this may be just annoying, iBryte also tracks your browser history, gathers your personal information, and transmits the information to remote attackers.

Hate to be the Bearer of More Bad News ...

Aside from the high virus and malware infection rate, pirated software have other disadvantages that can cost your nonprofit.

Pirated software does not receive security updates. Software companies, such as Microsoft and Adobe, regularly provide security patches to prevent attackers from exploiting their program’s vulnerabilities. As you can imagine, these legitimate security updates are not compatible with pirated programs. Without security updates, you are exposing your computer’s vulnerabilities to cyber thieves, which can lead to bigger hazards such as data loss or data theft.

Pirated software is not supported by the software companies’ customer support. If you run into issues or need to troubleshoot your pirated program, you’re on your own.

Finally, pirated software is susceptible to crashing. When navigating or downloading pirated software, IDC developed system performance issues more than 25% of the time. Their testers estimated that more than half the time, either the virtual PCs crashed or the system slowed to the point that it was unusable.

Are You An Unwitting Victim of Piracy?

IDC, Microsoft and other third parties have found that pirated software can end up on computers without the user even knowing. This typically happens when users or companies order computers with pre-installed software.

In order to avoid the dangers of pirated software, there are steps you can take to check if your software is genuine. Here are a few resources for our most common software requests:

If your software does end up to be an illegal copy, don’t be afraid to report it:
The dangers from pirated software are real. By downloading and using pirated software, you are exposing your nonprofit to malicious viruses and malware, degradation of computer and network performance, and data and security breaches.

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