That is because cybercriminals – who have never been so adept at inflicting harm – are routinely infusing non-genuine software with all sorts of malware: trojans, worms, viruses, ransomware, backdoors, spyware, droppers, injectors, adware and so on.

A NUS researcher investigating a website that offers pirated software downloads.

They can do a whole lot of damage in this digital age. They might steal your data, your identity, and even your credit card details and savings. They might spy on your online activities, gain access to your files, and hack and manipulate your PC, leading it into even more peril. Most types of malware can be hard to detect and difficult to get rid of. And with time, the malware strains can multiply and become more sophisticated, dangerous, and highly targeted.

Sikdar sharing the dangers of downloading and using pirated software.

Downloading from a pirated disc or dodgy website opens a door to cybercriminals. Infected computers at home and work, Sikdar says, can be “turned into bots, zombies and then none of your personal information is secret anymore”.

Sikdar, who is an Associate Professor from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the NUS Faculty of Engineering, recently led a team of graduate students who set out to understand the scope of the problem in Asia – which has some of the highest pirated software usage rates in the world.  They scanned 458 pieces of non-genuine software and suspect websites in eight Asia Pacific countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Korea, and Philippines.

Infected computers at home and work, Sikdar says, can be “turned into bots, zombies and then none of your personal information is secret anymore”.

Their findings were staggering and disturbing.

The study, which was commissioned by Microsoft, discovered that 100% of the websites that host links to pirated software expose users to multiple security risks. Out of 165 CD and DVD samples, 61% carried malware. It even found that many new computers were at risk with non-genuine software pre-loaded – often as a “sweetener” thrown in by retailers wanting to make a sale. Of the new PCs sampled, 92% were infected.



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