I just stumbled upon a rather frightful Business Software Alliance (BSA) report revealing the relationship between software piracy and internet security. The report concludes that the higher a country’s piracy rate, the higher their malware infection rates. (Read the entire report here.)
The BSA offers two primary reasons for this phenomenon:
- Individuals running software that was illegally obtained often don’t have access to critical vendor-issued security patches that prevent malware from infiltrating their PCs. (I'd also guess that in geographic regions with high piracy rates, consumers are generally less likely to spend money on tools (or professionals) designed to protect and/or repair their PCs should an infection occur.)
- Often times, sites distributing pirated software and/or piracy tools actually embed malware into their downloaded products or employ other means to make visitors’ computers vulnerable to infection.
While the BSA focuses its efforts on trying to cut off the distribution of pirated software at the source (through the legal process, as well as through a practice called “takedowns”), this approach is—in my estimation—equivalent to chasing apparitions; as known channels are shut down, new channels simply open up. Rather, the BSA needs to find a way to educate consumers, primarily in developing countries where incomes are low and piracy is high, about the ways in which indirect costs of using pirated software often exceed the savings. While the BSA dedicates considerable resources to education, it appears to me that the bulk of their efforts target businesses, where piracy tends to be more the result of careless licensing practices than internet piracy—and the security issues are therefore much less of a concern.
The cynic in me believes it’s often necessary to create an economic incentive (or disincentive) to encourage people to behave ethically, and in this respect, the BSA is fighting an enormous uphill battle. We can all agree that the last thing the BSA sponsors want to do is lower their price points to encourage people to do the right thing. Nor will the BSA encourage consumers to abandon Microsoft Office and move to lower cost/free alternatives such as Google Docs or OpenOffice.
Barring that, given the geographic, demographic, and economic factors contributing to software piracy, the BSA has no choice but to refocus or expand its educational outreach to target individual consumers—and reframe its message in such a way as to challenge traditional assumptions about the perceived economic costs and benefits of using unlicensed software. If the BSA were to embrace this kind of strategy, it would be no small task, to say the least; but the ramifications for consumers of not doing so are pretty scary, indeed.