Anti-counterfeiting technology has prompted a six-fold rise in the number of consumers who have reported buying faked Microsoft software, the software firm says.
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Microsoft UK anti-piracy manager Michala Wardell, said the number of reports of faked software rose from 67 in September 2008 to 423 a year later. "Figures since then are tracking consistently," she said.
The rise in fake-software reports follows the introduciton of Genuine Advantage, a set of validation and verification tools that Microsoft uses to protect its Windows XP, Vista and 7 operating systems, and Office 2003 and 2007 application suites.
Windows product manager Laurence Painell said the tools include BIOS checksums, hard disk and operating serial numbers and data from the PC that helps identify the manufacturer, as well as validation and activation numbers. These are combined and checked against Microsoft databases as well as third party databases of known distributors of fake software to verify the genuineness of the software.
If it detects fakes, a pop-up appears warning the user, and asking them to contact Microsoft to get a genuine product. None of the device's functionality is affected, except that access to Windows Update is disabled, Painell said. The background screen will go black after 30 days if the user does not respond.
Wardell said anyone who has been sold fake Microsoft software should contact the firm via the piracy section on the Microsoft website.
"We are one of very few firms who will provide a free replacement provided we can get as much detail as possible to trace the sellers," she said. Such information includes records of online transactions such as eBay payments, receipts, delivery slips, the packaging, labels and the discs themselves.
Microsoft analyses the discs forensically to discover any digital fingerprints. These often pointed to organised gangs in the Far East, she said.
Wardell said most reports of sales of fake software related to Office 97, which is not protected by the Genuine Advantage technology. Consumers of all sizes, from 64-year-old grandmothers to the country's largest companies, had reported buying fake software, she said.
This had prompted Microsoft to set up a Consumer Action Day, a global initiative to educate consumers about the risks of counterfeit software.
Microsoft was also stepping up its fight against sellers of fake software. This had led to out-of-court settlements with four UK computer resellers that were caught dealing in illegal software in the past six months. They were Clarion Computers of Swansea, South Wales; Surf-IT Computers of Farnborough, Hampshire; Little Laptop Shop of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire; and Custom PC Shop of Telford, Shropshire.
Much of the fake software, which was often bought online, contained viruses and malware, Microsoft said. A recent Media Surveillance study of several hundred downloaded copies of Windows found that 32% contained malicious code.
"The damaging effects of malware range from personal data loss to having your identity stolen," Wardell said.