There’s no denying running a business can be expensive — and a major portion of those expenses comes from the software you need to operate. Whether it’s a basic suite of programs for word processing and managing your finances, virus and security protection or specialized software for design, bidding or other functions, the costs add up. This is especially true when considering the expense of updating to newer, better versions every few years.
To save money and still have the necessary tools, some people turn to alternative sources for their software. Online auction or sales sites, discount websites and even surplus or salvage stores often offer software for highly discounted rates — sometimes as much as 75 percent than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price — but is that software legitimate? Or are you buying a cheap copy that will cause problems?
While there is nothing wrong with looking for a deal and trying to pay the lowest possible price for software, it’s important to look at more than just price when purchasing software. In many cases, when the price tag on a popular program is significantly lower than usual, there is a reason — and in many cases, it’s because the software is counterfeit.
A recent survey of more than 2,000 computer users from around the world found counterfeit software has the potential to cost more than $114 billion in 2013. Those costs come from a number of sources, including damage to equipment caused by pirated software, data breaches due to malware infections and the costs for the nearly 1.5 billion hours spent identifying and fixing problems caused by pirated or fake software.
The high costs stem from the fact that the majority of counterfeit software is embedded with malware that opens the door to cyber criminals, who want to steal data or take over your computers or network. Software pirates often tamper with the software’s code before selling it — usually via a download, although some counterfeit software is a physical product — to add malicious code. When the user installs the software, it may be equipped with spyware that can do anything from record keystrokes or turn on cameras and microphones so criminals can hear and see everything that’s happening in the room, to adware or viruses that allow criminals to take over your computer.
In some cases, the malware infects your operating system or other program. For example, it’s not uncommon for pirated software to contain code that disables your antivirus software, giving criminals’ free reign over your machine.
The best way to avoid the problems caused by counterfeit software is to simply avoid purchasing and installing such programs. No matter how great a deal may seem at the time, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. A program that normally retails for several hundred dollars is most likely not going to be available legitimately for less than $100.
For that reason, purchase software only from the manufacturer or trusted sources. If you order physical software from an online source, before installing anything, check the packaging against that software you know is genuine; there may be subtle differences in the counterfeit software’s packaging. Also, look for a certificate of authenticity in the packaging, guaranteeing that the software is real.
However, since more than three-quarters of pirated software is installed via download, it’s also important to take precautions before installing anything you find online. Always scan downloads using antivirus software backed by threat intelligence to find and block malware before it takes hold. In some cases, the software itself is “clean,” but requires the use of an authentication key that must be acquired online. When the user attempts to access the key code, the website or download infects the computer with malware — unless antivirus and firewall protections block the attack.
In addition, educate employees about the dangers of counterfeit software and prohibit the downloading of unapproved products via your company’s network. Since the study indicated more than half of all end-users admit to downloading software via corporate networks, it’s important to include protections against infectious software as part of your security plan.
With everyone looking for better ways to cut costs, the temptation to purchase and install an inexpensive version of the software you need can be great. However, think before you buy, as the “great deal” you find could end up being more of a headache, and cost you far more in the long term.
About the Author:
Noah Gamer directs the global Internet Marketing optimization and product web reputation strategy as the Senior Manager of Search Marketing at Trend Micro. He specializes in web product strategy development, competitive analysis, and site optimization while building online identity and brand for product marketing, public relations, investor relations, technical support and corporate marketing initiatives.