By Mary Jo Schrade, Assistant General Counsel & Regional Director, Digital Crimes Unit, Microsoft Asia
Approximately 720 people fall prey to cybercrimes worldwide every minute – that’s more than 1 million victims every day, and many of those victims are in Asia.
Cybercriminals are no longer hacking out of mischief or curiosity, but instead are financially motivated professionals equipped with technical skills and business acumen. Their success relies on their ability to evade existing cyber defenses while executing their attacks in an efficient, cost-effective manner that ensures a high return on investment.
Cybercriminals are constantly evolving their techniques so they can slip past cybersecurity measures and unleash harm. One common tactic they use is to infect pirated software with malware.
Cybercriminals are Targeting New PCs in Asia Pacific
According to the Business Software Alliance, three out of five software programs installed on personal computers in Asia Pacific are pirated, presenting the cybercriminals with a substantial number of infected computers to leverage in their cyber attacks.
According to Microsoft’s recent Asia PC Test Purchase Sweep, four out of five (83%) brand new PCs purchased from retailers who also sold pirated software came pre-loaded with pirated software. And 84% of those PCs came with malware preinstalled on them. Most of them also had the PC’s anti-virus software and Windows Defender turned off in order to allow the hack tools to be used to activate the pirated software. This combination of issues will create significant vulnerabilities for the people who bought these new PCs.
Cost of Using Pirated Software Can Be Steeper Than Anticipated
Very often, consumers as well as small and medium businesses opt for pirated software because of the short-term cost savings. However, these “too good to be true” deals usually come with unseen dangers and steep hidden costs.
In examining the PCs with pirated software preinstalled, Microsoft found that Trojans and viruses were among the most common types of preinstalled malware. While Trojans are used by cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to devices and allow the hackers to spy on the users and steal their private data, viruses can delete files, terminate security programs, send spam messages and download more malware onto the infected devices. Furthermore, the malware can open the door to identity theft, compromise the PC’s performance and lead to downtime.
It is important to understand that the “cost saving” seemingly gained by investing in a cheap PC preloaded with pirated software eventually induces unprecedented security risks and can cost the owners far more than they have bargained for. Over the last year, cybersecurity incidents have resulted in an estimated US$96,000 in economic losses to the average mid-sized organization in Asia Pacific.
Safeguarding Yourself Against Cybercriminals
A simple and effective defense against cybercriminals is to use genuine software.
Buyers should always insist on a genuine software, whether purchased stand alone or preloaded on a new PC. They should also buy their PCs from reputable retailers and be wary of deals that are “too good to be true.”
Consumers and businesses can further reduce their digital risks by ensuring that they:
- Keep software programs current with the latest updates and security patches;
- Follow safe Internet practices and not visit risky websites, such as those that offer illegal downloads or pirated software; and
- Avoid using old software products which have reached their end of life and are no longer supported.