Among business owners, one of the biggest concerns of using unlicensed software is the chance of installing malware through an unpatched, unsafe version of the software, according to a new survey from the Business Software Alliance (BSA).
In a report released last week, researchers for the BSA drew their data from surveys of about 22,000 consumers and enterprise PC users. They also polled about 2,000 IT managers in a separate survey.
Researchers found 62 per cent of these IT managers said the main reason they’d avoid unlicensed or mis-licensed applications would be due to malware, with mis-licensed software coming in the form of software used for purposes not allowed under a licensing agreement. For example, a business might use a software license intended for student or academic use.
Among those IT managers, their chief worries were data loss, data breaches, and spending time and money on removing the malware from their systems. Yet just under half, or 48 per cent of these IT managers, said they were confident their organization’s software was properly licensed.
In Canada, the value of the unlicensed market is set at around $1.1 million, while the licensed market is worth around $3.3 million. The BSA estimates about a quarter of the software installed in Canada is unlicensed. These numbers come from publishers and vendors by comparing how much software is deployed against the number of software licenses actually shipped and sold.
“What we found a lot is that unlicensed software, from a technical aspect, you’re talking about a system that does not get the necessary upgrades it needs, at all, in order to consistently improve,” said Rodger Correa, compliance marketing director for the BSA.
“Any software you purchase is essentially going to have an upgraded version, a security patch, any sort of thing along those lines. And with the use of unlicensed software, that essentially strips of you of any sort of ability to get those updates … Really, it’s prone to hackers unfortunately, and there are huge groups of people from hackers to spammers to phishing.”
However, Correa couldn’t say how many users end up installing malware onto their systems through using pirated or underlicensed software. He added so far, the BSA has only done “informal tests” in the past, downloading software from eBay and finding that an “obscenely high” amount of it contained malware or was not secure.
He also added he is unsure about what types of software – say, pirated, unlicensed, mis-licensed, etc.- might be the least secure.
“We have not done significant work in terms of what is the difference between pirated software purchased on Craigslist, for example, versus what is the difference between software purchased legally but on a different system. For the purposes of the study, it’s pretty much taken as one and the same, and it’s a lot of the same issues we approach in Canada,” he said.
Correa added with this year’s survey, the BSA is trying to do less “naming and shaming” of companies that may be using unlicensed software, as some of them may not be using pirated software – instead, they’re just using mis-licensed software. Or they could be using underlicensed software, where the company has paid for 20 licenses but installed copies on 30 computers.
“People have to be aware of what’s on their systems,” he said, adding businesses can use a software asset management plan to understand what they’ve installed.