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7/2/2013
04:47 PM
Doug Landoll
Doug Landoll
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License To Ill

Unlicensed software exposes SMBs to lawsuits, viruses, and unwelcome guests

Computer software accelerates the ability of businesses to communicate, collaborate, design, build, and deliver. Expensive as some of these products may be, it's hard to imagine getting business done without them. While SMBs are always looking to cut costs and maintain effectiveness, shortcutting the software licensing process can have dangerous consequences from a lack of software support to potentially company-ending fines and security holes.

Although not on the top of the list of SMB owner concerns, the issue of unlicensed software is critical. Unlicensed software is much more of a problem than many would believe. It is said that 20 percent of software products installed is unlicensed or counterfeit. Moreover, the SMB space seems the most impacted by efforts to stem the practice of stealing software IP. The Business Software Alliance (BSA) is an organization that has been given legal authority from many software vendors to investigate reported instances of software theft (mostly reported from ex-employees who get a reward from the BSA). In a recent study, the BSA reported that 90 percent of the monies collected from such fines and lawsuits came from small businesses. Now, most SMB owners or directors would not knowing install or look the other way for such an important issue, but the unlicensed software still creeps its way into your organization in three ways:

1) Lack of clear policies and oversight. Few organizations make it clear that the business will not put up with intellectual property theft and unauthorized software installed on their systems. Unclear policy and direction lead to a degradation of culture and permissiveness that leave the business open to such vulnerabilities.

2) Sloppy asset management. Many times computers moved from one department to another simply retain the software installed on it, whether needed or not. After just a few moves the organization is using more licenses than it planned or paid for.

3) IT service provider shortcuts. Many IT service providers use their knowledge of how to install multiple copies of vendor software to cheaply provide software suites to all company workstations or servers. Lack of follow-up on the proper licensing process turns those installed instances into unlicensed software.

This is not just a legal issue, but also a major security issue. In addition to instilling a poor company culture, illegal software can contain malware or, left unpatched, lead to damaging security holes. A recent study found that more than one-third of downloaded pirated software contained malware. As for "legitimate" copies of software that simply are not registered, these installations have not access to critical patches, so they are just a "patch Tuesday" away from inviting the world into your systems.

To protect the businesses they have built, SMBs need to ensure they respect intellectual property and ensure they have legitimate and licensed software.

1) Have an independent software license review. Independence here is paramount. Such a review from your IT provider or department gives little to no assurance.

2) Update/create policies to reflect intellectual property protection, reporting of violations, and prohibition of unauthorized software.

Doug Landoll, CEO of Assero Security Doug Landoll is an expert in information security for the SMB market with over 20 years experience securing businesses and government agencies. He has written several information security books and dozens of articles for national publications. He has founded and ran four ... View Full Bio

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