Warez is not a word in the English dictionary, but a search on Google finds over 5 million pages. In charts of the most searched for words, warez regularly features in the top five.
The warez phenomenon has been around now for at least twenty years, outdating the internet.
In the early 80s the term arose to describe computer programmes traded rather than purchased. Warez is internet slang for pirated software. Almost any piece of commercial software quickly becomes available through warez networks and web
To cash strapped Tanzanians looking for affordable software this may seem a real boon. However there are a number of risks attached to using warez that any tempted internet user should be aware of.
License keys, registration and dongles
Software companies quickly caught on to the fact that other people were making copies of their programmes available for free or in exchange for other programmes. To combat this they started to incorporate defensive measures. Anyone who has installed Windows or Office knows that you need to type in a long string of letters and numbers to activate the programme – the license key. Of course, obtaining these keys is no more challenging than obtaining the software itself. To combat this some companies require users of their software to activate the software over the internet or even by telephone. Microsoft does this with individual copies of Windows – they maintain a list of license keys in use and prevent the activation of Windows with duplicates. However, businesses with large numbers of computers do not have time to contact Microsoft every time they install a new computer, so Microsoft issue special license keys which will work on more than one computer. Eventually these keys make it “into the wild” enabling people to activate Windows without paying for it. Microsoft maintain a list of some of these rogue keys and prevent updates to copies of Windows using them, as was seen with the recent release of Service Pack 2 (see last weeks InfoTech column.)
Other companies go as far as supply a piece of hardware called a dongle – this must be physically attached to your computer in order to use the programme. It is incredibly hard to copy a dongle, and impossible to trade one online. This
is only common amongst the most expensive software – often industrial software individuals would rarely be able to afford, and unlikely to need.
Software that has been secured in these ways is an automatic temptation to hackers, whether or not they really need to use it. Groups of hackers investigate the methods used by software companies to protect their software and work out ways around them. This often means modifying the programmes or creating software that makes it appear a dongle is attached to the computer. Amongst the warez community such things are known as “crackz.” It is possible to download cracked versions of most expensive programmes if you know where to look. Hackers have become so adept at this it is not uncommon to find cracked versions of new programmes available on the day of the official release – so called “zero-day crackz.”
Of course, hackers and crackers are not just interested in pirating software. Since they are modifying the code of programmes that hundreds of people may download the temptation to do more is overwhelming. Many cracked warez include other modifications that you probably do not want. Computer viruses can be hidden within otherwise useful programmes. Backdoors can be included allowing hackers to take control of your machine and use it to break into other computers – those familiar with Greek myths will know why such things are called Trojan horses. Using warez is certainly a risky business. The damage caused by malicious code may cost you or your company more than the cost of the software.
Risks aside, warez remains a massive internet trend. It is closely related to the slightly more visible trading of music and movies. I should point out here that the risks above do not apply to music and movies, only software. You cannot get a virus by downloading MP3s.
Download morality and legality
Outside of the dangers of Trojan horses and viruses the main issue potential downloaders need to consider is the morality of taking a piece of software that may have taken years of effort to develop. This is especially the case when most computer tasks can be achieved using Open Source software that is available legitimately at no cost.
You should also consider the legal implications of using commercial software you haven’t paid for. If caught you may face fines or even imprisonment. Make your decision based on knowing the risks involved.
Whatever you decide, my usual advice holds true – make sure you are using up to date anti-virus software such as Grisoft AVG, a personal firewall such as ZoneAlarm, and spyware protection such as Spybot.
Originally published in Arusha Times 337