Software piracy,from statistics to hypotheses of cyber warfare

Pierluigi Paganini December 17, 2011

With the term software piracy is referred the illegal distribution or reproduction of software for business or personal use. Whether software piracy is deliberate or not, it is still illegal and punishable by law.

We distinguish several type of software privacy:

  • End user: sing one licensed copy to install a program on multiple computers,copying distrubuting applications for installation, usage of limited versions for an unqualified purpose.
  • Internet : offer of illegal software for download over the Internet. To give you some sample consider a software distribution trought a website that offer the possibility to download the requested files in exchange for uploading another program and so violing your licence agreement in return for other downloads, and becoming a software pirate yourself.Another good example are all those mechanisms to share pirated software using peer-to-peer networks that enable unauthorized transfer of copyrighted programs.
  • Software counterfeiting, copyrighted materials illegally duplicated and sold  to unsuspecting customers who believe they’re acquiring  genuine software.
To give an idea of the dimension of the phenomen let give a look to the BSA study of 2010 and discussed several times during the 2011. Theft of software for personal computers leapt 14 percent globally in 2010 to a commercial value of $59 billion. That total amount has significantly grown during the last years with extraordinary case in  emerging economies that are the really driving forces behind the trend.

Emerging markets contribute for a quote of $32 billion and the main reason is that around 50% of the overall of personal personal in the world went to emerging markets.
What is worrysome is the a few percentage (around 20%) of that has installed unlicensed software. Central/Eastern Europe, Asia-Pacific region and Latin America had the highest piracy rates meanwhile North America had the lowest piracy rate.

In Europe the situation is not so good. rance had the highest rate of financial impact from software piracy, with $2.6 Billion, followed by Germany with $2.1 Billion, Italy with $1.9 Billion, and the United Kingdom with $1.8 Billion in losses.


Why distribute piracy software?

Basically the studies have identified 3 main categories of crimes:

  • unintentional crime, people ignore that they’re committing a crime distribuiting a software copy (e.g. users believe buying a single software license but they are authorized to install the applications on multiple pc)
  • criminal organizzations that distribute software to have an economical return.
  • hacking. In this case some fake or altered software version are deployed with the intent to install backdoors or other malware in the final host for several intents.
The impact of piracy on the world economy is impressive and it is difficult to assess the amount of direct losses (e.g. loss of profits for software producers, jobs reduction) and indirect losses (e.g. image brand damage). It has been calculated that a reducing of the piracy rate for PC software by 10 percentage points — 2.5 points per year for four years — would create $142 billion in new economic activity while adding nearly 500,000 new high-tech jobs and generating roughly $32 billion in new tax revenues by 2013. That is amazing.

The phenomenon is of great concern on the security front. For if the end user is encouraged to use piracy software to save license costs and to be able to test any other kind of application it is exposed to the risk of being victim of such malware with dangerous consequences. Software obtained through illegal channels has a good chance of being faulty, impossible to register and so not upgradable  and infected with malwares.

And if I were the victim of an attack of madness and I inconceivable another bad event. If behind the phenomenon of piracy for some applications there were real cyber warfare operations? Distributing pirated copies a government could inject malware or can project a botnet creation plan with the intent to attack specific targets. Pirated software may be a vector privileged, out of control, and well established in many contexts. Consider that with the distrubution of a cracked operating system we now can control a PC but also a mobile device. Through a jailbreak so I could spy on a user who is willing to sacrifice their privacy for installing any application or fashion new features not available in official versions of the software.

As usual … meditate.

Pierluigi Paganini



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