Tempted to download some cracked software and save money? Think again—you risk malware, security issues, and copyright theft.
Purchasing software can be expensive. When you need a new piece of software for your PC, you can either look for free options, or pay out for potentially pricey software. Some people are tempted to avoid these costs by downloading cracked or illegal software.
This is software that is pirated via file sharing sites and accessed illegally using a stolen or generated unlock code.
However, cracked and illegal software can be a security risk in more ways than you might imagine. Here are some of the risks of downloading and using illegal software.
1. It Can Cause Malware Infections
Downloads of illegal software are frequently stuffed full of dangerous malware. A report by security company Cybereason estimates that over 500,000 machines have been infected by malware from just one cracked app. Once a user has downloaded and installed cracked software, the malware hidden inside can steal information from their computer. And it can even go on to download more malware, making the problem much worse.
The malware profiled in the report could do all sorts of invasive things. There are two particular pieces of malware described in the report, Azorult Infostealer and Predator the Thief.
Predator the Thief steals information like passwords from browsers and can steal cryptocurrency wallets. Or it could take pictures using the camera and take screenshots, which allows it to collect very personal data.
Azorult Infostealer also steals information, such as browsing history, usernames and passwords, cookies, and cryptocurrency information.
Further research from the Digital Citizens Alliance found that one third of illegal software contained malware. It also found software downloaded from illegal sources was 28 times more likely to contain malware than software downloaded from legitimate sources.
A lot of the smarter malware hides itself. So you may not even know that your machine has been compromised. You could continue using your device for a long time without ever realizing that it has been infected.
2. You Have to Visit Dodgy Websites
Another reason to be skeptical of cracked software is the websites which distribute it. To download cracked software, you generally need to visit sites which specialize in cracking. These sites are already on the wrong side of the law. So they have little incentive not to harm their users.
Cracking sites often have popups or redirects which send you browser to further dangerous sites. You are exposing yourself to risks like adware infections or even ransomware.
3. The Software May Not Work
When you download illegal software, there’s no guarantee it will actually work. Many companies take steps to prevent their software being pirated. So you might find that the software never works in the first place. Or it might work for a while, before eventually it stops working.
You also won’t be able to download updates for cracked software. This means you won’t be able to get any new features for the software. More concerning, it also means you won’t receive security updates. If a security vulnerability is discovered in a piece of software, the company responsible for the software will usually roll out a fix as quickly as possible.
If you continue to use the software without updating it, you could be open to even more security threats. Hackers can use vulnerabilities in software to access all sorts of data from your machine.
4. It Could Lead to Legal Problems
Downloading and using cracked software is illegal. If you are caught using it, you could face a range of consequences.
One of the more minor consequences is that you may be blocked by the software vendor temporarily or permanently. For example, if you pirate a copy of Adobe Photoshop, then Adobe could block you from using any of their software in the future. If you rely on this software for your work, this could cause a serious problem.
This is particularly a problem with cracked games. If you download a game illegally and try to play it online, you may well be caught. And if you are, you might find yourself banned not only from that particular game, but also from online gaming platforms like Xbox Live. This would prevent you from gaming online at all using that platform.
Alternatively, if you are caught with pirated software you might receive a fine. In the US, these fines can be up to $250,000. If you are caught distributing pirated software, you could even face jail time.
Another problem might arise with your ISP. If it catches you pirating software, they could report you to the software vendor. Or they could chose to block your internet connection. This can also lead to massive problems if, like most people, you rely on your home internet for work or entertainment.
This affects businesses as well. If you are the director of a business and you have illegal software on your company’s devices, you could be held liable.
5. You Could Infect Other Devices on Your Network
Something that some people don’t realize is that cracked software isn’t only a danger to your device. When you connect to the internet using your home network, your device shares information with other devices on the network like phones, tablets, and other computers. This means that if your device is compromised by malware, that malware can spread.
Once it has penetrated the security of one device via cracked software, malware can travel over networks. If one family member downloads cracked software, then the whole family’s devices can be compromised.
It’s even worse for businesses, as many have networks of hundreds or even thousands of computers. One person who downloads cracked software onto a work computer, even if they use their home network to do the downloading, can introduce malware to the entire business network. And if you infect your work’s network with malware, even unwittingly, you could be disciplined or lose your job.
Don’t Risk Using Cracked Software
We’ve laid out some of the security risks of using cracked software. From facing fines to acquiring malware infections, there are many risks which comes from using illegal software.
If you can’t afford a piece of software, then don’t look for a cracked version. Instead, look for a free or open source alternative. For a list of places to look, see our list of the safest free software download sites for Windows.