A clever computer user can find pretty much anything online. Every day we hear news stories about music and movie piracy. Newly released games have the ongoing controversy over DRM. Copy protection notices pop up before every DVD we play. Surprisingly, the issues of software piracy come up far less often.
It’s possible to get nearly any piece of software free online. OpenOffice for example is a free and open source version of the Microsoft Office suite. Of course, it’s just as possible to find MS Office free online as well. The problem is, these ‘free’ downloads — called warez — come with a price.
The Variety of Free Online Software
Software online comes in three main forms. These three forms are trial software, freeware and warez. Trial software is a demo — a version of paid software that is limited by function or by time. These trials are perfectly legitimate. Freeware is software offered free online — no pay version is available. For the most part these pieces of software are legitimate, but a cautious computer user should scan every file they download for viruses.
Warez are the illegal version of free software. When you download warez, you’re essentially stealing a piece of software you would normally have to pay for — whether it’s a $20 copy of Fraps or a $4,000 copy of Maya. However, to get this software to function you need either a patch or a product key.
How Warez Work
Patches remove DRM from software, but more often than not, they include viruses, spyware or keyloggers well. Product keys are found by downloading another piece of software called a Keygen — a small program designed to generate a legitimate product key. Keygens also more often than not come bundled with viruses or trojan horses.
Hackers and scammers know the people stealing software online make excellent targets for viruses which, when left alone, compromise a user’s computer. The compromised computer may execute remote commands as part of a bot net, have sensitive bank information and passwords stolen or simply be disabled from the inside.
The Negative Consequences
Downloading warez is software piracy. While courts debate the severity of the punishment, piracy is a felony and comes with severe fines and up to five years of jail time. Of course, you still have to be caught stealing software, prosecuted for it, and sentenced. All of that is extremely unlikely unless you’re pirating a large volume of software. The consequences come in other ways.
Warez almost always come bundled with viruses that infect your computer. No matter how minimal the damage may initially seem to the user, many viruses are hard to remove and cause extensive problems. It’s even worse if you don’t catch it right away. How do you know what information it might have stolen already?
Even if you manage to find a piece of pirated software that isn’t bundled with a virus, it might not work. Keygens are unreliable. If too many people use the same key, it no longer works. Software developers issue updates to combat the effectiveness of patches. In extreme cases, the software you’re trying to download might not even exist.
Downloading open source software free from a trusted site is perfectly fine. It is when you start downloading paid software from suspicious websites that users have to have a watchful eye. Even if you trust your antivirus software, it is better to avoid the risk altogether by avoiding questionable downloads.