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Cybercriminals are embedding malware in pirated software: NUS study

Anuradha Shukla | June 23, 2017
92 percent of new computers with non-genuine software were found to be infected with malware too.

NUS researcher examining sites offering pirated software downloads.
A NUS researcher investigating a website that offers pirated software downloads. 
Credit: Microsoft.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Engineering's new 'Cybersecurity Risks from Non-Genuine Software' study indicated that cybercriminals are compromising computers by embedding malware into pirated software and the online channels that offer them, in the Asia Pacific(APAC) region.

All websites that host pirated software download links were found to be exposing users to multiple security risks, including advertisements with malicious programmes.

As for tested torrent hosting websites, all of them opened with multiple pop-up windows with suspicious advertisements. A large number of these websites contained links that download malware when clicked or show objectionable content such as pornography.

The report also found that 92 percent of new laptops and computers installed with non-genuine software in APAC were infected with dangerous malware. 

"The study's findings all point to the fact that uncontrolled and malicious sources of pirated software, particularly on the internet, are being converted into effective means of spreading malware infections," said Associate Professor Biplab Sikdar from the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at NUS Faculty of Engineering, who led the study. "And what we would like to achieve with this report is to help users recognise that the personal and business risks and financial costs are always much higher than any perceived costs they save from using non-genuine software."

Commissioned by Microsoft, the study analysed 90 new laptops and computers, 165 software CDs/DVDs with pirated software, and 203 copies of pirated software downloaded from the internet. 


Risks when downloading and installing pirated software

More than a third (34 percent) of the downloaded pirated software came bundled with malware that infects the computer once the download is complete or when the folder containing the pirated software is opened.

Thirty-one percent of the downloaded pirated software did not complete installation, which suggests other motives behind their presence on torrent hosting websites.

Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of the malicious programmes bundled with the pirated software downloads deactivated the anti-malware software running on the computer. Once the anti-malware engine is blocked, the downloaded malware installs itself on the computer.

Eighteen percent of these installations prompt users to change default settings on browsers and install add-on toolbars during installation.

More than 1 in 10 (12 percent) of these installations require users to contact additional websites to complete the process.

"Although the risk of contracting malware through all sources of pirated software is high, the online medium is turning out to be a more potent infection vector," added Biplab. "It not only provides cybercriminals with the scale to attack anybody, anywhere, anytime, it also allows them to easily camouflage their malicious activities and attack remotely. This makes them harder to be detected and stopped."


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