Say "No" to Cracks!

Background

Cracked software costs legitimate businesses billions every year, yet most people view this form of theft as no big deal. Do you go searching for cracks or patches before buying software just to see if you can get a copy for free? You may be hurting more than just the wallets of big businesses. You (and others like you) may end up driving companies who work hard to bring you valuable products out of business. At a minimum, you'll cost these companies resources as they spend time fighting software piracy instead of bringing you the features you need. Let's take a look at how piracy can be a double edged sword and how piracy affects you beyond getting free software.

The cracker mentality

Many people wonder why hacks, patches, cracks, and key generators exist to begin with. Hackers don't get paid, do they? Well, sometimes they do, but the ones who get paid usually get paid for hacking into systems to expose vulnerabilities to companies that hire them to do so. The software piracy cracker (as opposed to "hacker") usually cracks software for one simple purpose: notoriety. Notoriety usually comes in the form of just being able to prove that they are smarter than the "big wigs" who create the software. Want to prove you are smarter than Bill Gates? Just create a crack for Windows Vista before it is even released. Want to get the best of Adobe? Just create a patch for the latest version of PhotoShop. In reality, the cracker is only proving something that the whole world already knows: nothing is crack-proof! Being able to thwart copy protection only proves that you can read low level code: something many thousands are capable of to at least some degree. So while exploiting a hole in some copy protection scheme doesn't make the cracker any smarter than the people who wrote the scheme in the first place, it does gain them some notoriety in the "elite" underground of cracking. Depending on the type of cracking/hacking, the cracker/hacker can get exposure for his/her name (always some made-up name like "Team XYZ") or even gain them entry into specialized "Black Hat" type meetings. In any case, hacking is not always a bad thing when it is used for good, but often it is used for nothing more than chest beating when it comes to software piracy as there us usually very little financial gain involved with cracking software.

The risks

Perhaps one of the reasons for the popularity of software piracy is the fact that there is little risk of getting caught. Piracy is illegal in most countries, however, the inability (or unwillingness) to crack down on the crackers and actually enforce the law can be a problem. China and Russia are usually seen as hotbeds for software piracy where piracy web sites are allowed to remain online with little fear of prosecution. With the risks being low for both the cracker and the people who use the cracks, you must look at the big picture to see the real risks. First and foremost, there is a real risk to your data and equipment when using pirated software. If you don't know exactly what you are doing and you don't know exactly where the crack came from, you are putting yourself at risk for viruses and adware as a fair number of software patches and key generators come with embedded viruses and adware! Don't be surprised if your machine starts to act a bit "flaky" after you steal software. That risk comes with the territory! Remember, you are in cahoots with the very people who write viruses, adware, and trojans, so by using pirated software, you may be opening back doors to your system for even more serious crimes like data theft or even identify theft!

Another real risk associated with using pirated software is that the software you are using may only be partially functional. To make piracy more difficult, some companies insert "phantom" code that may randomly affect certain functions when a crack is being used. These make it difficult for the crackers to identify when they have a successful crack when problems don't appear until certain functions are being utilized or after a certain time period making your pirated software a bit of a "time bomb" waiting to fail you when you need it most. The bottom line is that by using pirated software, you never really know what you are getting and to ensure that you get a 100% working copy, you should always buy the software and obtain a legitimate copy from the company's web site!

There are other, less immediate risks involved as well. Using pirated software usually means that upgrading down the road will be a lot riskier. Many pirated versions are disabled over time so upgrading may leave you at risk of being exposed for your theft and/or being unable to upgrade without searching for a new crack that works with the new version. Pirated software also leaves you with little or no support for the software since you don't have a legitimate copy. Again, each time you download and use a crack, you make yourself vulnerable to more adware, viruses, and phantom problems in the software you are using. By contributing to the worldwide software piracy problem, you also contribute to the dilution of the very software that you seek so hard to steal as companies expend more resources fighting piracy instead of improving the product. If you've ever stolen software via software piracy, you have no right to complain about how complicated it is to register or obtain a new version of a product as complex registration schemes, product keys, and activation processes are simply a result of the ongoing fight against software piracy. And if you don't use pirated software, you may have the right to complain, but complain to the right people: those who can make a difference as far as enforcing the law and making the international community aware and responsible for these crimes. It's really no different than rising insurance rates that are due in part to people who have no insurance.

Price or upgrade policy is no excuse

Many people seem to justify software piracy with statements like "but it's too expensive" or "why should I have to pay them for bug fixes". The fact is, software sales rely on support from customers and bug fixes are just a reality of the software business. People have no problem buying new tires when the old ones wear out, yet we never claim that the fact that they wear out is a "defect" in the tire. Or when a company introduces a new tire that lasts twice as long as the old one, we don't run back to the store and claim the old ones were defective. Bugs are an inevitable consequence of using software and the fact remains that people use software for months or even years before having to pay for an upgrade and the upgrade almost always contains new features as well as bug fixes for old features, so paying for new features shouldn't be a stretch just as you wouldn't expect to walk into a car dealer and ask for next year's model for free. My policy of free lifetime upgrades for Qimage is, in part, a plea to customers to register the product since the "pay once" concept ensures that you never have to pay for things like bug fixes or even new features. While this does reduce the tendency to use pirated versions, companies shouldn't be forced to give away their work to avoid piracy any more than they should have to use their resources to prevent theft. Whether companies choose to raise their prices, implement more aggressive anti-piracy procedures, or offer free upgrades, piracy costs companies money and in the end, that costs you by taking away some of the product's full potential. Regardless of price or upgrade policy, if you find software useful enough to go searching for a pirated version, do everyone a favor and pay for what you are using. It has benefits all the way around and will make your life a lot safer in the long run.

Summary

So did I change your mind? :-) Probably not. This article is not designed to change the minds of the many who steal software through software piracy. Those who have made the decision one way or another will probably not change their mind since the issue of piracy is a bit of a personal topic and people are often creative in rationalizing software theft in their own personal case. It's funny how human nature drives people to argue either side of an issue when given sufficient motive to do so. In this article, I hope to have exposed some of the risks involved with using pirated software so that those who are contemplating going the route of pirated software may change their mind when presented with the facts and risks. If I can bring a few people who are on the fence back to my side, the side where I must deal with piracy in my own software, maybe we can spread the word and support the companies that bring us the products that we use. Whether we are talking about big companies that may be able to absorb more losses than others with respect to software piracy, or the small company who works closer to the consumer to bring the best products to the market, we all lose in the end when we use pirated software.

-- Mike Chaney