Striking At The Root 

Unauthorized sharing and distribution of creative works, through any means, poses a serious threat to consumers and the global economy and must be taken seriously. One way of preventing it is striking the problem at the root. Let’s take a look at the techniques that can be used at this level.

The practice of consumers and businesses passing their software to friends, colleagues and family members is costing the software industry some $11 billion in annual sales. Software piracy can take many forms. 

End-user piracy occurs when an individual or organization reproduces and/or uses unlicensed copies of software for its operations. Client-server overuse occurs when the number of users connected to or accessing one server exceeds the total number defined in the license agreement. Server piracy occurs when illegal copies of software are loaded onto one or more servers. Counterfeiting is the illegal duplication of software with the intent of directly imitating the copyrighted product.

Hard-disk loading occurs when a computer hardware reseller loads unauthorized copies of software onto the machines he sells. Online software theft occurs when individuals download or upload unauthorized copies of software from the Internet or a Bulletin Board System (BBS). License misuse occurs when software is distributed in channels outside those allowed by the license, or used in ways restricted by the license.

Primary Tricks

Almost all software manufacturers apply some anti-hacker protections systems in the software they develop. Multiple encryption, comprehensive self-checking and debugger killing algorithms are presently being used. The online authorizations and serial number authorizations use a variety of cryptographically secure technologies to ensure their robustness.

There are many companies developing third-party tools to facilitate enabling of such parameters. Such tools are integrated into the software application. Programs using such tools are loosely categorized as freeware, shareware,
adware, demoware, nagware, etc.

There is no problem with the Freeware category with regards to piracy. The developer of the freeware actually wants the application to be distributed freely. Whereas in the case of Shareware the applications are designed to function for a set period of days, for eg 30 days, after which the application ceases to function. These are also called the Trialware. After the trial period of the application is over the user has to buy the software and register, for it to function as normal.

Demoware are applications with limited features. These are distributed freely for users to try the basic function. In some case the Demoware disables some important functions like the ‘Save’ feature, which forces the user to buy a full version after using it.

Adware are application with a space for advertisement banners somewhere on the screen. These applications are usually distributed freely and there is no problems related to piracy of such software.

Nagware, are similar to shareware. However, Nagware applications do not cease to function after the expiry of its trial period, but it keeps of flashing reminder on the screen ask the user to register the software. The frequency of
reminder-flashing increases with increased usage. 

Techniques to prevent piracy

Following are some of the techniques used to activate software in order to prevent piracy:

Hardware Lock Device:

One of the most efficient anti-piracy technique used is hardware lock devices or “dongles”. These are hardware modules that connect to your computer and communicate with software running on the computer in such a way that the software will not function fully or at all without the hardware lock device attached. 

The most common type of hardware lock device attaches to the printer port or the USB port. However, very few software companies use hardware locks because of the extra cost involved.

Key Diskettes:

Like hardware locks, ‘key diskettes’ provide you with a secure distribution mechanism to deliver physical software authorization to your customers without requiring Internet access or contact with your support organization. Key diskette technology turns ordinary diskettes into secure, uncopyable tokens that authorize your end-users to access your software. Key disks are inexpensive, flexible and

Key diskettes provide the same sort of security and portability functionality as hardware dongles, but at a fraction of the cost. However, like dongles, key diskette authorization can easily be moved from machine to machine by the end-user.

Serial Number Authorizations

Serial number authorization is the method chosen by the publishers of many large, commercial software packages. The first time the user uses the application, it prompts the user to enter a serial number. However, hackers have successfully managed to generate such serialization algorithms to authorize your applications illegally. Serialization are not considered as a safe method to prevent piracy.

In general, serial number authorization is appropriate for lower cost and/or higher volume products where a high degree of customer convenience is required and the possible illegal copying of serial numbers and software is not a concern.

Card Authorization:

In addition to classic copy protection systems, such as key diskettes and hardware locks, one can also authorize software through a new GSM Smart Card license cards (about the same size as a credit card). Software is shipped with this License Card in the box. The chip on the License Card contains the authorization license necessary to activate and run the software. Simply insert the GSM format license card into the card reader when prompted by the software. Your software authorizes instantly.

Microsoft Anti-Piracy Solutions:

As an anti-piracy technology, ‘Product Activation’ discourages casual copying by limiting the number of times a product can be installed and activated on individual computers. Microsoft successfully implemented this in retail versions of Office more than two years ago in Australia, Brazil, China, Hong Kong and New Zealand, and last year in the United States and Canada. 
Retail customers, who acquire future versions of Microsoft products, including Office, Windows and Visio, can activate the software anonymously via the Internet or by phone. When consumers activate via the Internet, they provide a product ID code, and an automatically generated installation ID number is sent to confirm activation. 

Microsoft is addressing the other forms of piracy with other initiatives such as Certificates of Authenticity (COA) that accompany new PCs with genuine licenses, edge-to-edge holograms, educational campaigns and, as needed, enforcement efforts. 

Edge-To-Edge Hologram: 

Since the launch of the edge-to-edge hologram on retail versions of Windows 2000 CD-ROMs last February, Microsoft has expanded the hologram to retail versions of its Office 2000 and Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) products. 
The edge-to-edge hologram is etched into the surface of the CD-ROM, and when the CD-ROM is tilted in light, it displays the product name and product-specific holographic images from the hub to the outer edge of the disc. The edge-to-edge holograms are unique on each product, making them particularly difficult to counterfeit.

According to Microsoft, the edge-to-edge hologram has been a highly successful anti-counterfeiting feature, with no counterfeiters to date being able to replicate the anti-counterfeiting technology. In light of the success of the edge-to-edge hologram, Microsoft will expand the anti-counterfeiting technology to its next versions of Office and Windows and, for the first time for Visio.

Summing up

All said and done, no anti-piracy techniques can be 100 percent perfect. For hackers indulging in breaking codes, the catch is “If you can make it, we can break it.” Till date, hackers have managed to break every kind of anti-piracy mechanism bet it copy protection (on key diskettes or DVDs) or serialization codes or even hardware locks.

The intellectual property protection arena is a cat-and-mouse game. All intellectual property protection technologies will be cracked at some point – it’s just a matter of time. 

Nelson Johny in Mumbai

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