3/24/2009
03:31 PM
Keith Ferrell
Keith Ferrell
Commentary

Counterfeit Software Brings More Business Problems Than Just Being Illegit

According to Microsoft, a third of businesses have bought counterfeit software, many without knowing it. And many of those businesses have found that in addition being illegal, counterfeit programs bring both technical problems and malware.



According to Microsoft, a third of businesses have bought counterfeit software, many without knowing it. And many of those businesses have found that in addition being illegal, counterfeit programs bring both technical problems and malware.Counterfeit software -- apparently legitimate programs, down to the smallest detail of packaging -- is big business, according to Microsoft's Cori Hartje, senior director of the company's Genuine Software Initiative.

According to a new study the company undertook, more than a third of business have unwittingly purchased counterfeit Microsoft packages, whether from retailers, auction sites or online vendors, with dire results:

Counterfeit software may have great packaging but often the code is lousy, causing crashes, as well as being ineligible for patches and automatic update.

As seriously -- even more so, I think -- is the possibility that while hacking the program in order to tweak its installer to do their work, counterfeiters can easily add malware and get the goods on your company while you're running their goods.

The majority of customers for counterfeit software don't set out to buy illegal copies; this isn't a case of looking for pirate copies. Rather, businesses tend to fall for counterfeit software when they're seeking the best price for the software they use, and may already have legitimate copies of the programs in place.

The counterfeiters know this, Hartje points out: "Counterfeit programs aren't selling for $30, they're selling for $30 under the regular price." Enough savings to tempt a buyer, but not enough to raise any alarm bells.

And the stuff looks real, especially at first, or even second glance. "The counterfeiters are careful to match the legitimate packaging as closely as possible," she says. So much so that in at least one instance, the counterfeiters actually improved the packaging, eliminating a manufacturing mark that they assumed was a flaw. In addition to steering clear of deals that are obviously too good to be believed, Hartje recommends that the following step can go a long way helping you to avoid buying counterfeit software:

Deal only with legitimate vendors whose reputation you're familiar with.

What if you've already purchased a counterfeit package? Hartje lists several steps that need to be taken immediately:

Contact your credit bank or card company (or PayPal)and try to get your money back

If purchased on an auction site, notify the site of the situation

If purchased retail, return it to the retailer

Notify the software's publisher or the Business Software Alliance of the counterfeit package

Additionally, I'd add that you should

Immediately run thorough scans of your systems and network for malware.

Whatever money the counterfeiters make from scamming you into buying a copy (or several) of their phony packages is dwarfed by what they can potentially make from including a key logger or other spyware/malware in their installation.

Not sure whether you've purchased counterfeit software or not? First step is to find out what you have on your network. Not sure whether you've purchased counterfeit software or not? As far as Microsoft goes, if your network has 250 computers or fewer, run Microsoft Software Inventory Analyzer to get a picture of your core (Microsoft) products. The company's validation process can tell you whether your software is legit or not.

Once you've got a sense of what is (and isn't) legitimate, and notified vendors of any counterfeit copies, the challenge is to keep from being stung again.

As Hartje points out, "The vast majority of businesses that fall for counterfeit products are good companies with plenty of integrity."

And those companies -- your company or one like it -- are far more deeply victimized by counterfeit software with its problems, possibility of introducing crimeware into your firm, lost time to remove the software and lost money to replace it than is Microsoft.

Not in the aggregate, of course -- this is a big problem for Microsoft and other major software makers, but they're big companies, able not only to ride out he counterfeit wave but also to invest in fighting it. I sympathize with the problem facing the industry, but no crocodile tears for it here,

Ask yourself, though, how your business would fare if you went out and purchased half a dozen copies of Office, say, installed them and discovered that a) they're illegit, b) they don't work, c) you've now got to buy six copies of the real thing while waiting to get your money back for the fakes (if you do).

That $30 savings looks smaller all the time. Check out Microsoft's How To Tell counterfeit info here.

Microsoft's The Surprising Risks of Counterfeit Software in Business is here.

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