Be careful when you buy a "too good to be true" copy of software over the Internet – you could be unknowingly infecting your computer with rogue software or a virus.
That’s the warning from Johannesburg-based businessman, Pieter Swanepoel, who contracted a virus on his PC earlier this year after buying a counterfeit copy of Microsoft Office Professional through a local online auction site.
Swanepoel, who relies heavily on his computer to run his small business, says he was lucky to recognise that his PC had been infected before it caused considerable damage.
“I was looking for software for my business, and wanted to save some money. After buying and trying to install the software, it turned out I had been sold a high quality counterfeit package,” says Swanepoel. “I appreciate Microsoft stepping up and helping address this issue by replacing the counterfeit software with a genuine copy – not something they do in every case.”
Swanepoel was speaking as part of Microsoft’s worldwide ‘Consumer Action Day’ – a drive across 70 countries to protect consumers and increase awareness of the risks of counterfeit software.
The day is being marked locally by "mystery shopper" visits to almost 400 computer dealers across the country, the launch of a "clean dealer" certification and training for partners, and a series of "knock and talk" visits to resellers who have been caught selling bogus software to unsuspecting consumers.
Microsoft South Africa’s MD, Mteto Nyati, says the company supports the seizing of hundreds of counterfeit Xbox games by Customs officials after a recent raid on the Brightwater Commons market.
It has also driven investigations into resellers such as one in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal, who was selling copies of Windows 7 Ultimate for R130.00 on an online auction site – a whopping R3 000.00 below the average selling price. In November, another six resellers were subject to civil action, two of which signed settlement agreements with Microsoft.
“The risk of viruses hidden in fake software is a growing problem – especially given that 36% of all software in South Africa is used illegally,” explains Nyati.
“Around the world, we’ve had more than 150 000 voluntary reports in the past two years from people who unknowingly purchased counterfeit software that was often riddled with viruses or malware. Victims risk losing personal information, having their identities stolen, and wasting valuable time and money.
“The Consumer Action Day demonstrates our commitment to working with others, including our partners, government agencies, and NGOs, to protect people from the ill effects of counterfeit software,” he says.
One of the areas of education focuses heavily on how counterfeit software comes to market. It’s not all through sales of DVDs at robots, markets or stores, says Nyati — in fact, the Internet is emerging as a major avenue of trade for fake goods, with auction sites particularly useful for counterfeiters.
Through these sites, people not only find themselves without the software they thought they were paying for, they are unable to source a refund from the dealer, and often need to purchase a genuine product again.
Counterfeiters are often large criminal syndicates that don’t stop at distributing hundreds of copies of unlicensed software.
“Software pirates are likely to create Botnets, which are armies of compromised computers controlled by cyber-criminals and used to perform a host of illegal Internet activities,” said Markus Schweitzer of Media Surveillance, a company that partnered with Microsoft for the Consumer Action Day.
In one recent example, software pirates helped create a Botnet army by offering a phony version of Windows, rife with malicious code, which compromised PCs and then ordered them to connect to a server controlled by cyber-criminals.
Charl Potgieter of local law firm Bowman Gilfillan said there was clear evidence that piracy of games, software and music was on the increase in South Africa.
“Right now, we’re seeing a growing wave of counterfeit software from organised criminal syndicates in the Far East,” says Potgieter. “We suspect that many international crime organisations are now involved in counterfeiting to some degree – which effectively means that people who buy pirated goods are funding organised crime.”