A test of counterfeit Microsoft Windows and Office installers bought from local markets in Melbourne, Australia, seems to confirm the results of recent IDC research: dodgy software is generally either rubbish or a security risk.
According to a post at Microsoft Australia's government affairs blog, counterfeit DVDs were bought from four different sellers — in all 12 Windows disks and six for Office.
Six of the Windows installers didn't even run. Money wasted. Of the other six, two were infected with malware, and all six resulted in an installation where Windows Update was disabled and the Windows Firewall rules had been changed.
Of the six Office disks tested, five were infected with malware.
All up, 20 instances of six different types of malware were found.
Nigel Phair, from the Centre of Internet Safety at the University of Canberra, told CSO Online that Microsoft's research didn't examine the malware in detail, but its intent and the risks were clear.
"In most cases the malware's prime purpose was to remove the code that implements the Windows or Office license activation processes, turn off software updates, that sort of thing. But once the bad guys are patching their own code into the core operating system, well, they can add anything they like," he said. That added code could include keystroke loggers or complete remote-access toolkits (RATs).
License-cracking tools such as ez-activator.exe, mini-KMS_Activator_v1.3_Office2010_VL_ENG.exe and KMSnano.exe were amongst those detected.
The IDC research, published earlier this month as The Dangerous World of Counterfeit and Pirated Software (PDF) and also sponsored by Microsoft, found that 36 percent of the downloaded counterfeit software they tested globally led to encounters with Trojans and malicious adware, and roughly 20 percent of counterfeit DVDs were infected.
While the Melbourne tests seems to deliver even higher malware figures, the sample size is so small that it's impossible to tell.
However licence-cracking tools and cracked software have long been vectors for infecting computers. Research published in 2011 by Alex Kirk, senior researcher with the Sourcefire Vulnerability Research Team (VRT), showed that malware could be found in 11 per cent of RAR archive files, a format popular for distributing bootleg movies and other software.
"I've always told friends, 'Don't ever touch a RAR file, it's just full of malware'," Kirk told this writer at the time.
Microsoft Australia wrote that the company is now taking enforcement action against the four Melbourne sellers, "as it does with numerous counterfeit software sellers every year, to help combat counterfeit software and protect unsuspecting consumers."