In response to a flood of high quality counterfeit software landing in the South African market from the Far East – as well as the general threat of piracy – Microsoft has released a tool that allows users to test their software's authenticity.

Known as the Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) notifier, the tool is downloaded voluntarily. Once installed, it can tell whether Microsoft Office applications are authentic or not.
If an application is found to be non-genuine, a dialogue box will tell the user so, along with options to obtain a licensed version. After a month of notifications, a permanent reminder will be displayed on the Office task bar. However, OGA will not affect the way Microsoft Office works on individual computers in any way.
"People spend thousands of rands on PC hardware, software and services, so it makes sense to keep it all virus-free and up-to-date," says Charl Everton, the anti-piracy manager at Microsoft SA.
"With that in mind, we have seen an increase in the amount of counterfeit software in the local market. Indeed, raids and actions in our reseller channel in the past few months have identified counterfeit software manufactured by a known organised crime syndicate in China – the ringleaders of which were sentenced to jail time of up to six years earlier this month following extensive investigations by Microsoft, the FBI and Chinese law enforcement authorities.
"Users who've purchased Microsoft Office expecting a genuine product, only to find that it is counterfeit, deserve some protection. OGA offers just that."
The programme has received a positive response in areas around the world where it has already been piloted. Most users choose to download OGA as they do not want to take the risks associated with pirated software, or want to know if their versions are genuine, says Everton.
OGA users can quickly convert pirated software to genuine by purchasing through an authorised reseller. In certain circumstances, victims of high quality counterfeit can also liaise with Microsoft to obtain a complimentary copy of genuine software.
"Non-genuine software has been shown to be more vulnerable to viruses and spyware, which can be used to damage a user's PC or steal personal information," adds Everton. "Also, genuine software is supported by Microsoft and its partners, and is eligible for security updates and other important upgrades."
IDC recently studied the prevalence of malicious code and unwanted software at Web sites that offer pirated software, counterfeit product keys, crack tools, and key generators for Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Office. It found that 25% of these Web sites tried to install malicious or potentially-unwanted software. Nearly 60% of the key generators and crack tools downloaded from peer-to-peer networks attempted to do the same.
Quentin Boshoff, a director of law firm Bowman-Gilfillan, said the launch of the OGA notifiers is therefore a good opportunity to educate people about the importance of using genuine software.
"Each year, the IT industry and consumers lose millions of rands to non-genuine software piracy.  Counterfeit has emerged as big business and is becoming an increasingly common way for criminals to deceive the public, and even steal personal information. By using genuine software, customers help minimise their risks," he comments.