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Risk

1/27/2009
12:11 AM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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Software Piracy Places Everyone At Risk

On Monday, the United States claimed victory in a World Trade Organization case against China for that country's alleged lax stance toward software piracy. What's that have to do with IT security? Plenty, as the recent Downadup outbreak, as well as a number of new Trojans to hit the Mac OS X platform, highlight.

On Monday, the United States claimed victory in a World Trade Organization case against China for that country's alleged lax stance toward software piracy. What's that have to do with IT security? Plenty, as the recent Downadup outbreak, as well as a number of new Trojans to hit the Mac OS X platform, highlight.As we covered in this blog post, the Downadup outbreak has rapidly spread in geographic areas that also correlate to the highest piracy rates. Stolen copies of Windows don't get all of the updates, and those with stolen copies are much more likely to turn off their automatic updates. Pirated users fear Microsoft, or any software vendor for that matter, will be able to detect the software isn't legit -- and shut it down, or perhaps even prosecute. Though overseas prosecution seems highly unlikely.

Some interesting statistics, gathered by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) and IDC research, show software piracy rates range from 20% in the United States to more than 90% in poor and emerging countries. They provide a chart of their global piracy estimates here.

It's tough to tell whether the BSA's piracy numbers are inflated, but they're probably close enough to show just how big the software piracy problem currently is. But I'm not concerned so much about the financial loss this brings for software vendors for this post. I want to point out how the piracy problem also is an IT security problem.

Consider the recent pirated/Trojan-horsed version of Apple's latest iWork '09 trial pack. Why anyone would want to download a copied version of freely available trial software is beyond me: but apparently, they do. This Trojan is designed to pilfer usernames and passcodes used to authenticate to the Mac OS. Then, Monday, the news broke that a copy of Adobe Photoshop CS4 for Mac also is circulating with a crack application that includes Photoshop serial numbers.

Any user that installs it, thinking they're getting one over on Adobe with a free copy of the high-end version of its Photoshop software -- they're not. The application apparently steals the administrator password when it asks for authentication, and sends them to two IP addresses. If the malware writers successfully use those credentials, it could be the most expensive "free" software application one could download. It seems, based on various security vendor's analysis, that the two Trojans are related.

While it looks like those careless enough to download the cracked Adobe applications would only harm themselves, we just don't know what the attackers have in mind with the affected systems. And those estimated 15 million users who are infected with Downadup are placing all of us at risk. Security researchers are still waiting to see what the creators will do with this massive network of infected systems -- there's nothing to stop the creators from deploying a massive botnet to levy denial-of-service attacks, or send massive amounts of spam. These systems could even be used to seed a massive Internet worm. While we'll probably find out soon enough what the real intentions are, we can be certain that the Downadup outbreak shows just how dangerous software piracy can be for everyone.

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