Malware: Why you may not be as safe as you think

One of the most alarming insights from a recent National University of Singapore report is the multitude of risks that users are expose to when they visit websites that offer pirated software downloads.

The study found that 100% of tested torrent hosting websites opened with multiple popup windows with suspicious advertisements. Many of these contain links that download malware when clicked or show objectionable content such as pornography.

In addition, the researchers encountered the following risks and suspicious behaviours when downloading and installing pirated software found on peer-to-peer networks:

  • 34% of the downloaded pirated software came bundled with malware that infect the computer once the download is complete or when the folder containing the pirated software is opened.
  • 31% of the downloaded pirated software did not complete installation which suggests other motives behind their presence on torrent hosting websites. These misleading torrents either tricked users into downloading malicious programs or are used to increase the traffic to the torrent hosting sites which subject the visitor to malware and unwanted advertisements.
  • 24% of the malicious programs 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.
  • 18% of these installations prompt users to change default settings on browsers and install add-on toolbars during installation. These changes to the browser settings lead to new home pages and default search engine as well as unwanted toolbars.
  • 12% of these installations require users to contact additional websites to complete the process. This is often portrayed as steps to obtain the license keys or “cracks” needed to activate the pirated software, and they can lead to popups and additional malware exposure.

Cybersecurity Risks

Brand New Computers with Pirated Software – Unused but not Uninfected

The study found that 92% of new and unused computers that had pirated software installed were pre-infected with malware. These computer samples were purchased from vendors that are known to sell non-genuine software.

The presence of malware in these computers is concerning as end-users expect these devices to be risk free. They might be less vigilant in checking for cyber threats and monitoring for suspicious activities that may alert them that their computer has been compromised.

Pirated Software in DVDs/CDs – The Classic and Effective Malware Infection Source

Out of the 165 DVDs and CDs samples acquired for this report, three in five (61%) contained malware. Infected discs contained an average of five pieces of malicious programs. In some cases, as many as 38 malware instances were found in just one DVD.

The researchers also observed that a number of pirated anti-virus software were embedded with malware. Using these compromised, non-genuine security programs not only infect the computer, but also lull users into a sense of complacency, which may lead to further exploitation of the computers and the users’ data and information.

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