Cyber criminals are targeting users in Thailand who run copied versions of Windows

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Microsoft is warning users in Thailand about the dangers of using copied versions of Windows and other software.

The tech giant says cyber criminals are exploiting non genuine versions of software to spread malware.

Users running pirated versions of Windows are leaving themselves wide open to a multitude of security risks, Microsoft said.

The warning comes from a Microsoft commissioned study carried out National University of Singapore.

The study, titled “Cybersecurity Risks from Non-Genuine Software” found that cybercriminals are targeting computers by embedding malware into the pirated software.

The study analysed 90 new computers and 165 CDs/DVDs containing pirated software randomly purchased from vendors in Thailand and seven other countries in Southeast Asia.

A NUS researcher investigating a website that offers pirated software downloads.
Image: Microsoft

Researchers also analysed 203 copies of pirated software downloaded from peer to peer networks from sites like the Pirate Bay using software such as BitTorrent or UTorrent.

The study found that 92 percent of the new computers running pirated software were infected with malware.

Out of the 165 CDs/DVDs analysed, 61 percent contained malware. In some cases “as many as 38 malware instances were found in just one DVD”, the report said.

From the software downloaded online, 34 percent infected the computer with malware once the software was installed on the computer.

31 percent didn’t even complete installation, which the report said suggests “other motives behind their presence on torrent hosting websites”, and could be used to trick users into downloading a malicious program.

24 percent of the software downloaded online deactivated antivirus software when installed on the computer.

“Hackers and organized cybercriminals today are adept at exploiting information technology vulnerabilities and human errors to compromise computers for malicious and financial gains at the expense of organizations and individuals. Cybercrime is predicted to cost the global economy an estimated US$6 trillion by 2021,” said Keshav Dhakad, Assistant General Counsel & Regional Director, Digital Crimes Unit (DCU), Microsoft Asia.

“While cybersecurity defenses continue to evolve, users are slow at adapting, whereas cybercriminals are constantly advancing their attack vectors (malware strains) and delivery mechanisms. Piracy of software is increasingly becoming a key vehicle for cybercriminals to exploit computer vulnerabilities and breach security measures with ease.”

The best way to protect your computer against malware from pirated software is to only use legitimate versions of software, the report said.

Microsoft also offered these tips on keeping your device free from malware:

– Source and buy your computers and laptops from reputable vendors.

– Always insist on genuine software from your vendors and opt for computers which come pre-installed with genuine software by hardware manufacturers.

– When purchasing a computer, always request for an invoice which clearly calls out the software title and version which has been installed on the machine.

– Keep your software current with latest product updates and security patches, and strengthen your security posture by having a strong anti-virus software.

– Do not use old operating systems such as Windows XP which have reached their end of life.

The report follows the devastating WannaCry ransomware attack that infected hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide.

The majority of infected computers were found to be running outdated versions of Windows that did not contain up to date security patches.

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