Q&A: David Finn, Microsoft’s anti-piracy enforcement chief, discusses consumer risks and how to take action if counterfeit software lands on your computer.
Consumer reports of counterfeit software, often riddled with viruses, have doubled over the past two years, and today Microsoft is holding a Consumer Action Day to highlight the risks of counterfeits and connect people with resources that can help them.
Most digital anti-piracy actions are driven by consumers, in cooperation with Microsoft and regional law enforcement agencies.
As head of global anti-piracy enforcement for Microsoft, David Finn leads a team of lawyers, paralegals, investigators and forensic specialists working with governments, businesses, partners and customers to ensure that people are protected from the perils of non-genuine software.
PressPass spoke with Finn leading up to today’s event to talk about the consumer risks of counterfeit software, and how a new wave of sophisticated cybercrime is motivating more people to take action against counterfeiters.
PressPass: What is Consumer Action Day all about? Why are you doing this?
Finn: During the past two years, consumer reports of counterfeit software, often containing malware and viruses, have doubled to more than 150,000. These are voluntary reports from people who have come to us via online Web sites, such as How to Tell, with powerful stories about the problems they’ve encountered with counterfeit software.
We’re seeing some sophisticated scams today, and consumers need to know, No. 1, there’s a serious risk to using counterfeit software, and No. 2, they don’t need to take it. Microsoft will help them. Consumer Action Day helps gets the word out and then backs it up with hundreds of educational and enforcement initiatives around the world — all aimed at protecting consumers.
PressPass: Do consumers really buy into the idea that counterfeit software puts them at risk?
Finn: Absolutely. More and more consumers believe they are at risk if they buy or use counterfeit software, and you know what? They’re right to be concerned.
Today it is all too common for software pirates to tamper with genuine code. Yet this can easily go unnoticed by the average software user. Indeed, the fact that you can’t see what is being added or removed by pirates underscores the insidiousness of the problem. Think about it — why wouldn’t a criminal syndicate that manufactures counterfeit software merely add a few lines of malicious code in order to compromise the security of your computer and victimize you a second time by stealing your identity or personal information?
Sophisticated packaging makes it difficult to distinguish the genuine product (right) from the counterfeit (left).
Having said that, we know a lot of people still think of software counterfeiting as a victimless crime. Yet I think we’ve hit a tipping point. The sheer increase in the rate of counterfeit software reports is remarkable. In fact, of the cases announced today, an overwhelming majority were the direct result of consumer reports. To file a report, which is completely voluntary, you need to fill out a Web form and provide some detailed information. Given how precious people’s time is, we know you have to be pretty mad to take the time to do that. And we’ve had 150,000 people around the world submit these reports in the past two years.
So there is just no question about it. Consumers are increasingly recognizing the reality: Counterfeit software puts them at risk. And people are seeing that friends and family members are struggling with the harm inflicted by counterfeit software: viruses, identity theft, lost time and productivity, lost business and financial data, you name it.