Surprise: 57 percent admit to using pirated software
- By William Jackson
- May 15, 2012
The Business Software Alliance has published an interesting finding in its latest study of software piracy. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed admitted to using pirated software at least some of the time, with 31 percent saying they do it “all of the time.”
Businesses are among the worst offenders.
“Business decision-makers who admit they frequently pirate software are more than twice as likely as other computer users to say they buy software for one computer but then install it on additional machines in their offices,” according to the 2011 BSA Global Software Piracy Study. “This form of license abuse accounts for the vast majority of enterprise software piracy globally — and the commercial value of it adds up quickly, because it is not uncommon for large companies to make hundreds or thousands of illegal copies.”
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The study comes on the heels of numerous reports indicating that the bulk of security breaches are caused by known vulnerabilities for which patches or software updates are available. Is there a relationship between this volume of unlicensed software and the persistence of software that is not being properly maintained and patched?
“It can be a security issue,” said BSA president and CEO Robert Holleyman. He said it is more likely to be a cultural problem than a direct correlation between vulnerabilities and pirated software. An organization that is sloppy in the management of its software use and licensing also is probably likely to have lax security policies as well, he said.
Whatever the exact cause-and-effect relationship, it is easy to believe that unlicensed, undocumented software is unlikely to be adequately supported under an enterprise patch management program.
The BSA report is based on IDC market data on PC and software sales in global markets, which Holleyman called the “gold standard” for what is happening in the computer market, combined with survey data gathered by Ipsos Public Affairs from 14,700 individuals in 33 countries representing about 80 percent of the global software market.
The results indicate that about 42 percent of installed software around the world is pirated, with a commercial value of $63.4 billion. BSA does not claim that this value is the net loss to the software industry, because there is no way to tell what percentage of it would have been bought legally had it not been installed illegally.
The United States is the most law-abiding country percentage-wise, with a piracy rate of about 19 percent. But because of the size of the U.S. market, it also accounts for the largest share of illegal software, an estimated $9.8 billion worth.
China, which pirates an estimated 77 percent of its software, is in second place with a total value of about $8.9 billion. Chinese computer users spend on average just $8.89 on legal software for each computer, compared with $127 in the United States.
BSA says that whatever the cost to the software industry, these figures represent a threat to U.S. economic well-being because of the unfair competitive advantage it gives businesses using pirated software.
But the prevalence of pirated software in the enterprise, even at 19 percent in the United States, also represents a threat to IT security.
In the first place, software from untrusted sources can come with malicious code already baked in, representing a direct threat. And even shrink-wrapped software from a reputable vendor is likely to contain vulnerabilities and will have to be maintained through patching and updates to avoid exploitation by the bad guys. If the software is being illegally copied and installed throughout an enterprise, the odds are it is not being properly managed.
I have not seen any studies correlating security exploits with pirated software. It might not be a significant part of the intransigent security problems we are facing today. But then again, it might be. At any rate, it is one more reason to ensure that software is properly managed throughout the enterprise.
William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.