China's rampant use of unlicensed software increases the country's cyberattack risks.
Over the weekend, cyberattacks of an unprecedented global scale rocked around 150 countries around the world. The attackers used a vulnerability in older versions of Microsoft Windows in order to carry out the attacks. Ransomware called WannaCry infected over 200,000 computers in just a few days.
Unlicensed software does not receive the same manufacturer security support as licensed software. Since this lack of support leaves an opening for cyberattackers to take advantage of, unlicensed software thus leaves the computers they run on vulnerable. The industry group BSA The Software Alliance claims that about 70% of computers in China use unlicensed software. Thus, China was one of the ransomware's hardest-hit countries.
Microsoft released security patches for unsupported Windows OS versions to address potential cybersecurity problems and lower cyberattack risks. However, unlicensed versions of the software were not able to run the patches. Millions of computers thus remained vulnerable to malware attacks. Zhao Boyu, a senior network engineer at Beijing's Bright Prospect Technologies, claims that most of the affected users in China run unlicensed software.
Beijing has promised industry groups from around the world that it will crack down on the use of unlicensed software. To be fair, there have been some efforts to encourage the use of proper software versions. For example, the Chinese government has required computer vendors to pre-load licensed basic software into computer units. However, it seems that unlicensed software is still quite prolific in China in spite of the government's promises and efforts.
Also, the number of computers hit by the WannaCry ransomware is particularly high. Universities and schools have fallen victim to the malware. This may indicate that these institutions are still running unlicensed software in spite of warnings about cyberattack risks.
It seems that the odds are stacked against China. Not only is unlicensed software popular, China also has the largest online population in the world. If 730 million people in China are online, and a majority of them use unlicensed software, then the risks are indeed quite high. Zhao Boyu adds that some unlicensed software vendors include “back doors” in the software so they can access the user's computer. Thus, some unlicensed software are already compromised to begin with.
Suffice it to say, using unlicensed software is unwise. It may be the cheaper choice but it's not the smarter one, as it will inevitably prove sometime down the line. You may be able to save some money by foregoing licensed software, but those savings aren't really worth it. Even though you may think that you're smart about and careful about cybersecurity, it won't hurt to cover all bases.
There's no concrete evidence that many of the affected computers in China do in fact run unlicensed software, though it's statistically possible. However, the takeaway from this should be that unlicensed albeit cheaper software isn't worth the higher cyberattack risks. Your computer should have as few vulnerabilities as possible. Ransomware isn't the only thing that you have to watch out for, as there are many other malware out there.
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