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File Sharing, Piracy, and Malware

Piracy is associated with malware

Today, downloading copyrighted material not only threatens the entertainment industry and software developers, but also the individuals themselves that are downloading . To combat software piracy, manufacturers often incorporate certain tools such as serial numbers, license key checks, or special hardware requirements. Despite these approaches, a study covering 116 countries shows approximately 42% of installed software is pirated [1]. 

keygen
An example of a keygen program, which often comes infected with malware. 


Recent research shows that websites and programs related to software piracy are likely to be infected with malware due to the way they are distributed. Copyrighted media are distributed through underground warez groups whose primary motivations are not for monetary gains, but merely reputation within the underground community. The general public can download the cracks and key generations for copyrighted media through third party hosts, which, through advertisements, can generate revenue for these groups.

The underground market for malware distribution is thriving with providers lending services from anti-virus evasions to infection services. How does malware spread from cracks and keygens to your computer? Recent research done by the Vienna University of Technology shows that distributing infected cracks or keygens is one of the ways malware can spread [2]. For this experiment, researchers gathered over 43,900 download links manually and automatically through three common networks, Usenet, One Click Hosters (OCHs) like RapidShare, and BitTorrent. Top pirated software such as Adobe Photoshop CS5.1, Ahead Nero 10, Microsoft Office 2010, Norton 360, and various gaming software were then downloaded and executed for analyzing purposes. The research team scanned each file with Virustotal, which utilizes 43 different anti-virus scanners. Their analysis shows that about 50% of collected cracks and keygens tested are infected with malware. 

In short, over 50% of all pirated files are infected with malware that are constantly repacked to evade even the most up-to-date anti-virus programs. Software piracy acts as a gateway for cybercriminals to infect computers, leaving individuals and their personal data vulnerable to malware infection.

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[1] B.S. Alliance. 2010 piracy study. 2010.
[2] Markus Kammerstetter, Christian Platzer, Gilbert Wondracek. Vanity, Cracks and Malware. 2013.