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How to Thwart Software Piracy

April 22, 2016 No Comments

Featured article by Tu Le, Flexera Software

Software piracy continues to be a growing threat to software producers’ revenue and reputation as many have unknowingly left their products exposed, including market leaders like Microsoft®. How can you thwart digital theft? One of the most effective approaches is by leveraging the power of cloud licensing servers.

First, let’s take a look back at how and why anti-piracy technologies have evolved.

Software piracy is growing at alarming rates, with an estimated 43 percent of software being pirated at a cost of $62.7 billion in commercial value of unlicensed software[1]. The scope of piracy is broad as it affects most software producers ranging from start-ups to large companies like Microsoft who have been battling software piracy for years.

Most recently, Microsoft has been embroiled in a legal battle to identify software pirates who have activated thousands of copies of Windows® 7 and Office® 2013 using stolen or abused software license activation codes. Seeing market leaders like Microsoft in the news being victims of software piracy has, understandably, left many software producers concerned about their own products’ susceptibility to being pirated.

Traditional Anti-Piracy Methods

Traditionally, software producers have relied on the following approaches to curb piracy, with each adding an additional layer of security:

1. Serial numbers: Serial numbers printed on CD labels allow the software to run only if the correct serial number is entered. The serial number is not tied to any specific device, therefore users can share their serial number with others without understanding that they are pirating the software.

But, there is a common issue with all the above approaches: the protection code itself is running in a hostile environment (client) that will allow a determined hacker to reverse-engineer and thus bypass any protection. This is where adding a cloud license server can fortify your security position.

A New Approach to Combatting Piracy

Hackers and their debugging tools have become very sophisticated and can easily circumvent anti-piracy measures implemented by the producer. A new trend among software producers including Microsoft is to bolster security by moving away from serial numbers and towards “digital entitlements.” Many video game publishers have already moved most if not all of their digital entitlements (which include licensing code) to a cloud-based server where access is more controlled and secure than local servers.

Additionally, some producers now leverage cloud licensing servers to manage digital entitlements. Simply put, a cloud licensing server replaces the traditional local license server and moves it to the cloud, which has several benefits to producers, including:

– Not only do cloud licensing servers make application deployment more flexible, they can also be one of the most effective tools for combatting software piracy. Video game producers have been at the bleeding edge when it comes to combating piracy as they force gamers to constantly authenticate (“call-home”) before authorizing access to game titles.

– Similarly, this call-home trend has crept into many on-premises applications, most noticeably Microsoft Office 2013, Adobe Creative Cloud, and Microsoft Windows 8. All of these products routinely validate the running copy of the application by calling home to authenticate the user and/or device and to also re-arm the application (e.g. allow it to run for another 30 days).

– Another benefit of a cloud licensing server is that it offers a great way for software vendors to stem loss from virtualization which is the #1 reason for accidental non-compliance. The cloud license server can’t be copied like a local license server can, which prevents accidental overuse, helping end-customers stay compliant and enabling the vendor to protect and monetize their intellectual property (IP).

The harsh reality is that software can and will be pirated given the financial motivation and resources available to these digital thieves. By following the above steps you can win the cat-and-mouse game of combating piracy.

Tu Le is responsible for product management for Flexera Software’s FlexNet Licensing technology (FlexNet Publisher and FlexNet Embedded). Prior to joining Flexera Software he held various positions at SafeNet, including software engineer, sales engineer, and product management. He has over 18 years of security experience in Cryptography, Anti-piracy and Software Licensing and Entitlement Management. He graduated from the University of California, Irvine, he is a savvy technologist and is always thinking outside of the box.


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