Ferreira explained that they don’t really differentiate between the impact of piracy on Microsoft’s operating systems (Windows) and productivity suites (Office).
“Because we find the victims are invariably the same people: the unsuspecting consumers and small business owners who purchase these goods expecting a quality product, and don’t realise they have bought illegal software until they have to validate it online,” Ferreira said.
According to Ferreira, the impact of pirated software on these end users should not be underestimated. “For a start, non-genuine software leaves computer owners without support or protection,” she said.
There are also more sinister risks, Ferreira said.“There have been reports globally of malware built into pirated copies of Windows 7 for the express purpose of building a botnet in other words, hijacking computers remotely for use in hacking activities,” said Ferreira.
Ferreira said that Microsoft has 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 also risk losing personal information and having their identities hijacked, she added.
“Piracy also has a broader impact on legal resellers and the local computer industry,” Ferreira said.
Quoting figures from the Business Software Alliance (BSA) 2011 study which showed that the commercial value of unlicensed software in South Africa has doubled in the past four years (from $284m in 2007 to $564m in 2011), Ferreira said that this lost revenue has a significant impact on job creation in the local technology industry.
The BSA also reported that 35% of all software in South Africa is pirated. If this were reduced to 25% in the next four years, the research suggests that it could create an additional R6-billion in economic growth and R480-million in additional tax revenues in South Africa.
“Microsoft is currently busy investigating dozens of computer dealers suspected of selling fake or illegally licensed software,” Ferreira said. “And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”