Microsoft: Counterfeit Windows can harm consumers

Microsoft has published findings that it says show purchasing counterfeit versions of Windows are harmful to consumers.

Microsoft on Tuesday published findings of research around counterfeit versions of Windows XP that the company said shows the software could be harmful to consumers that purchase them.

As part of an ongoing effort to prevent pirated copies of Windows from making the rounds, Microsoft also filed 20 more lawsuits against companies it says are engaged in illegal software sales.

Microsoft studied 348 counterfeit Windows XP software disks, finding that 34 percent of the software copies could not be installed on a computer, and 43 percent had additional code that was not part of a genuine copy of Windows, the company said.

According to Mary Jo Schrade, a Microsoft senior attorney, some of the code on the disks that was not part of Windows posed problems such as: installing malware in addition to installing Windows without the user's knowledge; installing tampered or incomplete versions of Windows, rendering the OS unstable; and bypassing input of the administrator password.

To obtain the copies of software used in the study, Microsoft uses investigators to buy software from vendors they suspect are selling counterfeit versions of Windows. The software used in the study was purchased in the U.S. as well as other countries in North America, South America and Asia.

Schrade acknowledged that Microsoft's interest in identifying people who sell counterfeit Windows software and stopping them is not purely altruistic, since the company stands to gain financially from sales of genuine copies of Windows. "We put the research and development money behind the products and if someone copies and sells them, we're not getting paid for our research and development, thoughts and ideas," she said.

However, Microsoft also is concerned about protecting consumers from any harm that purchasing nonlicensed and counterfeit versions of Windows could bring them, either through vulnerabilities or from spending money on software that does not work, she said.

Microsoft filed the new lawsuits against companies in nine states -- Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Texas. Since July, when it began filing suits against software counterfeiters in earnest, Microsoft has filed 46 cases against companies and individuals it claims are selling pirated or counterfeit copies of Microsoft software. All of the cases are still pending, Schrade said.

Over the next nine months Microsoft plans to double its investment in efforts to detect and prevent sales of counterfeit software, she said. The company plans to file at least 150 cases against alleged counterfeiters by the end of the company's fiscal year in June.

Schrade declined to disclose how much money Microsoft has put into locating people who are selling counterfeit versions of Windows, saying only it is in the millions of dollars so far.

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