More than 80 per cent of pirated software-loaded new PCs in Asia are infected with malware according to new findings from Microsoft.
The PC test purchase sweep was conducted across nine key Asian markets, spanning India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
The sweep examined a total of 166 new PCs across these nine key markets, revealing that more than four in five (83 per cent) of brand new PCs are loaded with pirated software.
“Cyber criminals are constantly evolving their techniques to evade security measures, and embedding their malware into pirated software is one of their tactics as it allows them to compromise large numbers of PCs and access vast amount of stolen credentials with ease,” said Mary Jo Schrade, assistant general counsel and regional director of digital crimes unit at Microsoft Asia.
“When vendors sell pirated software containing malware in their PCs, they are not only fuelling the spread of malware in the region but are also putting their customers’ personal information and digital identity at the mercy of cybercriminals."
These finding highlight the importance of purchasing either directly from the vendor or through an authorised reseller.
Many customers are however still attracted by lower costs and the free software bundles many other retailers offer, some of which also sell pirated software at their store.
Microsoft conducted this study in an effort to help educate consumers and owners of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the region because while some might be attracted by the initial low capital expenditure of purchasing new PCs from such retailers, the risks associated with data integrity and security are very real and too important to compromise.
In fact, one of the most common reasons for installing pirated software on new PCs is to turn off the security features, such as anti-virus software and Windows Defender as doing this allows them to run the hack-tools needed to activate the pirated software.
In many cases the buyers of these computers may not even realise that their PC is not being protected, and is left vulnerable to malware and other cyber threats due to the lack of protection.
Furthermore, 84 per cent of the new PCs loaded with pirated software were infected with some type of malware the sweep found, with the most common being trojans granting cyber criminals remote access and control of the PC or viruses that can potentially cause havoc with the PC’s normal operation such as deactivating security features or sending spam messages or contacting remote hosts to download additional malware and so on.
“Users usually turn to pirated software as they are cheaper,” said associate professor Biplab Sikdar, department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, National University of Singapore (NUS), Faculty of Engineering, who led a team of researchers to study the dangers of downloading and using pirated software last year.
“The truth is that the financial costs and risks of using pirated software are often steeper than they can imagine. Users need to be more vigilant when purchasing new PCs and should never fall for a bargain that appears too good to be true.
"The short-term cost savings are insignificant compared to the irrevocable loss of their digital identity and personal data."
The unfortunate truth is that for many individuals looking to cut costs due to budget constraints, they unknowingly compromise their own security or that of their organisation such as personal documents and sensitive information comprising passwords and banking details, as well as identity theft where they lose control of their social media and email accounts.
In this end, costs can add up leading to consumers and businesses chalking up significant monetary, time and productivity losses as they work to resolve the issues.
“Using genuine software is the first line of defence against cyber criminals,” said Schrade.
A first line of defence against such issues is also insist on buying PCs from established retailers and not ones that also sell pirated software, and ensuring they are getting genuine software, referring to the software vendors’ websites when unsure how to distinguish between genuine and pirated software.