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12/7/2010
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Avast, Ye Pirates: It's Free

Pirated installations of free Avast software included two in Vatican City

Here's a rhetorical twist on the old saying, "Why steal the cow when the milk is free?" Avast Software has long provided a completely free version of Avast Antivirus. But that didn't stop file-sharing users from pirating a license key to the Pro version a whopping 774,651 times.

According to a press release issued by Avast Software, the license keys originated from a 14-seat company located in Tucson, Ariz. After somehow ending up on various file-sharing services, the license ended up being used in "over 200 countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe" (including two pirated installs in the Vatican City).

"There is a paradox in computer users looking for 'free' antivirus programs at locations with a known reputation for spreading malware," noted Vince Steckler, CEO of Avast Software. (And, of course, there's no shortage of irony in having something stolen when it can be gotten completely legally for free).

Fortunately for those who did pirate the key, Avast has taken a good humor approach. The pirated version now sports a pop-up notice alerting users they have a pirated version and providing the option of converting to the free version or buying the Pro version. And the original owner of the key? They were given a new license along with an admonishment to please keep it secure.

Mary Landesman is an antivirus professional and senior security researcher for ScanSafe, now part of Cisco. In 2009 she was awarded a Microsoft MVP for her work in consumer security.

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