Using Intelligence and Forensics to Protect Against Counterfeit Software

In the past year, tens of thousands of people have contacted Microsoft to complain that one or another third party had sold them software that turned out to be counterfeit. Many are angry at being cheated, but their even bigger problem is that counterfeit software may carry malware, spyware, or other viruses that can jeopardize their personal and financial information.

To fight software counterfeiting, Microsoft has set up nine regional crime labs around the world, staffed by forensic experts. They evaluate more than a half-million pieces of evidence each year, much of it from our customers through piracy tips, formal complaints, and voluntary product submissions. Using innovative intelligence techniques and forensic technologies, our labs “connect the dots†among disparate pieces of evidence to uncover how computer users are being victimized, and by whom. Optical disc “fingerprinting,†for instance, allows us to match counterfeits found on different continents and trace them to known production facilities.

We use this intelligence to support international law enforcement in shutting down the highly organized criminal syndicates behind counterfeit software. A good example is the recent dismantling of the largest software counterfeiting syndicate in history, based in southern China and responsible for producing more than $2 billion worth of counterfeit software, including versions of 19 different Microsoft products in 11 languages, found in 36 countries.

Members of Microsoft’s global anti-piracy team worked closely with law enforcement authorities in China and the U.S. over a period of several years to build the case against the ringleaders of this operation. Much of the most important evidence was gathered from our customers – more than 1,000 submitted invoices, emails and other critical details sent in from all over the world. Based on this overwhelming evidence, 11 members of the counterfeiting syndicate received landmark prison sentences in China, ranging from 18 months to more than six years.

 

Customers continue to send us hundreds of pieces of piracy evidence every day, and we continue to invest in new forensic tools and intelligence systems to help us become more effective in combating piracy. We’re also working to raise public awareness and educate consumers.

Beginning on April 21, 2010, Microsoft will be displaying forensic technologies at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (City of Science and Industry) museum in Paris, France, as part of a larger exhibition on counterfeiting. We hope that visitors will enjoy learning about the latest techniques in fighting piracy and the important role that consumers can play in this effort.

About the Author

Associate General Counsel & Executive Director, Microsoft Cybercrime Center