With the recent Internet-wide protests of PIPA and SOPA legislation making headlines, the issue of online piracy has sparked a controversial debate. In addition to the morality issue of pirating software, consumers should be aware of the many risks — including security risks — involved in this practice.
Software piracy is a widespread problem. In the U.S. in 2010, 20 percent of software was pirated, according to the Business Software Alliance, an organization aimed at stopping copyright infringement of software. What types of programs are consumers pirating? The Software & Information Industry Association says the software most likely to be pirated includes programs like Adobe Acrobat, Adobe PhotoShop, Intuit Turbo-Tax, and Adobe DreamWeaver, among others. The 2010 value of this illegal software was nearly $59 billion, costing the software industry plenty of money. But not so advertised is the potential cost to those who illegally download.
Though pirating may seem like a cheap and easy alternative to purchasing licensed software, there are more risks from pirating than many realize. In addition to the legal and financial ramifications (the BSA says those found guilty of using or creating pirated software can be fined up to $250,000 or face a maximum prison sentence of seven years), consumers also risk their computer security.
Pirated software is unsafe. Unlicensed software that harbors particularly dangerous viruses and malware is often distributed by cybercriminals hoping to gain access to your information. For example, an illegal copy of a word-processing program might contain spyware that can send your credit-card information to a hacker. Or you could pirate a copy of a spreadsheet program and unknowingly activate your computer as a botnet drone. In addition, the keygens (key generators) that often come with illegal software or can be downloaded separately to activate the program are also commonly infected with malware.
Pirated programs also often cause computer-wide problems, corrupting files and disrupting function. Even worse, many of the pirated security software programs are actually decoys that cause the very problems they claim to protect against.
Using legally licensed software is the only way to properly protect your programs and computer. Developers frequently update their software, often releasing patches that protect their programs from the latest malware and keep the latest versions running smoothly. If you are using pirated software, your program and computer will remain vulnerable. Remember, too, that you might find yourself struggling to master your new software without the help of customer service that is only provided for legitimate versions.
Pirating software poses major legal, financial, and security risks to any user, and therefore should be avoided. But you should also consider the larger economic impacts. Though it may seems like a way for you to personally save money in the short-term, according to the SBA, if law enforcement agencies could reduce the amount of pirated software by 10 percent during the next four years, it would create 32,000 new jobs and generate $41 billion in economic growth — much needed in our current climate.