Software Piracy: The Risks are Greater than Ever

Software counterfeiting and piracy is a global problem that no single entity solves alone. 

From countries trying to spark their economies to businesses trying to protect their assets to consumers eager to use software free from the risks of counterfeits, we all have a stake in this issue.

Given the global worldwide impact of the issue, and the fact that it touches so many lives, it’s crucial that organizations, governments, and businesses collaborate on a regular basis to share resources, build awareness, and generate new ideas in our effort to reduce piracy. One such gathering took place this week in Paris, and I was honored to attend and participate on behalf of Microsoft.

The 6th Global Congress on Combatting Counterfeiting and Piracy is a conference jointly hosted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), and the World Customs Organization. The conference brings together officials from the public and private sectors, from countries all over the world, with the aim of sharing ideas and practices in order to reduce global piracy. At this year’s conference, I discussed the current landscape of software piracy and how new trends affect consumers around the world.

An important theme that resonated among the international groups is the number of organized criminal gangs that rely on the profits gleaned from pirated software to fund other crimes. Sophisticated criminal syndicates and drug cartels are building large scale counterfeiting operations and selling illegal software to consumers. These illegal enterprises have generated astronomical profits that the gangs funnel toward violent crimes such as drug trafficking, arms and weapons trafficking, kidnapping and extortion.

The New York Times recently reported that one of the most notorious and violent drug cartels in Mexico was using counterfeit software as a “low-risk, high-profit complement to drugs, bribery and kidnapping.” The article stated that the cartel distributed the software through thousands of kiosks, markets, and stores in the region, and demands that sales workers meet weekly quotas, describing the operation as a “form of extortion” on locals.

According to an analysis by the Mexico Attorney General published in other articles, the group’s illegal counterfeiting activities involved a sophisticated distribution network of 180,000 points of sale in stores, markets and kiosks, earning more than $2.2 million dollars in revenue every day. It’s no wonder that enforcement agencies and governments are deeply concerned about this trend.

Consumers are worried, too. This past fall, Microsoft commissioned a worldwide survey to learn more about consumer perceptions about counterfeit software. More than 38,000 consumers in 20 countries participated in the survey, and a large majority said they want the industry (72 percent) and government (65 percent) to do more to protect them from software piracy. 

It’s not just the fact that they’re concerned that purchasing counterfeit software could contribute to violent gang activity; they’re also concerned that illegal software is infected with “malware” – computer viruses, Trojan horses, or botware – designed to damage computers, destroy data, compromise security, and steal their identities. You can download details and other findings from the survey here.

For our part, Microsoft’s team of 75 investigators, lawyers, engineers, and advisors will continue to build new anti-piracy technology to keep ahead of these sophisticated operations, work to enact new policies that will go further in protecting consumers, businesses and economies, and spread the word about the risks that counterfeit software carries. We’ll also continue to work with the broader industry, governments, and other agencies to help reduce all of the risks associated with software piracy.


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