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Microsoft Warns Piracy Surge Brings Malware

Amid rising complaints about infected counterfeit software, Microsoft is redoubling its anti-piracy work.

Citing a rising tide of complaints from people who unknowingly bought counterfeit software infected with malware, Microsoft on Thursday announced the launch of educational initiatives and enforcement actions in over 70 countries to raise awareness of counterfeit software and to protect consumers.

Such complaints have doubled in the past two years, according to the company, reaching 150,000, a fairly large number considering such reports are made voluntarily by consumers.

"Consumers who are duped by fraudulent software encounter viruses, lose personal information, risk having their identities stolen, and waste valuable time and money," said David Finn, associate general counsel for Worldwide Anti-Piracy and Anti-Counterfeiting at Microsoft, in a statement. "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."

Microsoft is calling its anti-piracy campaign Consumer Action Day. The event includes an intellectual property education program in schools across China, a club for software resellers in Germany to provide legitimate software, a course in counterfeit software risks offered by Mexico's consumer protection agency, an online safety program for children in Greece, and a business piracy impact study in Argentina.

Microsoft claims that counterfeit software is becoming more dangerous. It cites a 2006 IDC study that found 25% of counterfeit software attempted to install unwanted or malicious code when downloaded. More recently, German anti-piracy company Media Surveillance found that among several hundred pirated copies of Windows and hacks, 32% contained malicious code.

IDC's study, however, by combining unwanted code, which may not be harmful, with malicious code, may overstate amount of truly dangerous code out there. Likewise, Media Surveillance's inclusion of "hacks" in its measurement of malicious code could bring more malware into the picture than if counterfeit Windows versions alone were considered.

Even so, Markus Schweitzer of Media Surveillance claims that counterfeit software is being used to subvert computers and make them part of a botnet.

The Business Software Alliance, an industry anti-piracy group, said in October that it issued 19,000 takedown requests to Web sites hosting counterfeit software in the first half of 2009, a 4% increase from the same period in 2008.

Companies using software that's either unlicensed or counterfeit are 73% more likely to suffer data loss or damage than users of legitimate software and 73% more likely to suffer computer failures lasting 24 hours or more, according to the Harrison Group.

Microsoft has posted additional information about the risks of counterfeit software and about its efforts to fight the problem at microsoft.com/howtotell.

[Find out when Windows 7 will be right for your enterprise. If you're weighing whether or not to migrate to Microsoft's new operating system, then be sure to check out InformationWeek's Business Case For Windows 7.]

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