09 June 2009
$5000 Reward! Report Crack or Pirate Software in Australia
Mick (name changed) is $10,000 richer. Several months ago he alerted the Australian Business Software Alliance to a local business which was running several illegal copies of AutoCAD on workstations without proper licenses or support. Management ignored the problem until they were officially served notice by the software authority. And in 2006 the BSA doubled their bounty on illegal users from $5000 to $10,0000.
This story could be just one of many. Pirate software costs the Australian economy half a billion dollars every year. Up to half (50 percent) of all CAD software in Australia could be illegal. Still, many users feel somehow clever, cool - even cocky - about finding illegal versions of software to use without registration or proper support.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Business owners and users alike have recently become more alert to problems caused by crack software for another reason. Much pirate software used today is actually bait for opening business data and infrastructure to organized cybercrime - much of it going undetected until it's too late. Here's how:
Today's warez industry is a complex business where organized crime plays at stakes much higher than making a few dollars on illegal software sales. Hackers begin with the latest off-the-shelf virus. "For as little as US$250, you can buy off-the-shelf malware, not detectable by major AV vendors and, for an extra US$25 a month, you can subscribe to updates that will ensure your malware remains undetectable," according to Kerrie-Anne Turner in Australia's Voice and Data eZine.
These stock viruses and trojans are embedded within crack software downloads. Once installed, the system is often irreversably compromised - even unbootable. More often, however, the infected PC becomes part of a botnet - a network of computers remotely controlled by someone else. As a botnet peer, a host PC can be asked to perform almost any task - from uploading confidential files to granting network access to outsiders and participating in illegal (and sometimes traceable) activities.
Since most complex CAD software requires local administrator rights to be installed, it is ideal for cloaking botnet clients which can run with unlimited system access. Botnets have developed into one of the internet's largest illegal sources of income. Botnets are commonly used to host illegal web content such as child pornography, to send out spam or to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. And all of this often without the computer's owner noticing anything really amiss.
In 2005 a botnet was foiled which turned out to be 15 times larger than police initially thought. A full investigation revealed 1.5 million infected PCs worldwide to be part of their illegal network. Many of the infected PCs were running up-to-date antivirus software. To date, hackers continue to rival each other in building larger and larger botnets.
Businesses who outsource to companies using cracked software also risk compromising sensitive IP and customer data. "What sounds too good to be true usually is" - especially when someone seems just too eager to share a copy of AutoCAD for $20 (or even free). In final analysis, the twenty-first century is a far more dangerous place for product design and manufacturing companies to be risking their reputation to run illegal or unsupported platforms.