Microsoft is anything but impartial when it comes to intellectual property and the Internet; obviously the software company would much rather have people buy its products than download them from a peer-to-peer or BitTorrent community. But a new report from the company found that those who download IP illegally don't just put Microsoft's bottom line at stake, they also risk their own computers' security.
Yes, unsurprisingly malware infects many computers by way of unauthorized media downloaded by consumers who want to listen, play, work or watch without paying for the privilege.
The Microsoft Security Intelligence Report found that key generators, used to create serial keys in order to crack illegally obtained software, and certain types of malware are wrapped up with unauthorized software and media more often than with other software. Using that information, researchers were able to get a better sense of how widespread piracy is and how pervasive malware is among pirated content.
In the first half of the year, Microsoft found that 17 percent of all PCs contained some type of malware associated with piracy. The most common "threat," Win32/Keygen, a key generator, actually isn't dangerous at all, but Microsoft classifies it as "potentially unwanted software."
Key generators usually aren’t malicious on their own, but they can be. The implication in Microsoft’s report is that any computer with a key generator also contains pirated software.
Microsoft isn't crying wolf though. In many instances, researchers also found "Blacole," the fingerprint of the Blackhole exploit kit that targets holes in browser and plug-in security.
Of the infected PCs, 76 percent contained a threat like Blacole or something else, according to the report. Those computers also were 10 percent more likely to have multiple infections. In short, the report found that people who pirate copyrighted material put themselves at greater risk to malware infections than those who do not.
The report also cautioned that simply visiting sites that host or link to illegal downloads can have vicious consequences. Criminals can load Web pages with malware that will drop onto a user's computer just by visiting the infected page.
Innocent bystanders could be hit too. Malware often masquerades as perfectly legal and free software. Microsoft found 35 different types masked as "install_adobeflash.exe," the Register reported.
If it were up to Microsoft, all software would be purchased from a retail store or on the Internet by using a credit card over a secure connection. The company encourages everyone to stay on the paved, brightly lit parts of the Web. But as most savvy Internet users know, powerful software that retails for hundreds of dollars can be had for free with just a few clicks and keystrokes. To many, the rewards outweigh the risks.
Those risks can be reduced with good antivirus software and by word-of-mouth verification. Files with multiple positive comments work and are devoid of malicious software more often than those that don't.
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