Home / Definitions / Piracy


Sam Ingalls
Published June 3, 2021 1:50 am

Piracy is when a malicious person or group steals goods or resources from another person or group. Applied to the digital era, software piracy is the fraudulent copying, distribution, or use of copyrighted programs; thus, piracy is related to copyright infringement.

The term piracy is rooted in the violent robberies at sea executed by pirates often unaligned to any state or country. Piracy in the 2020s takes on many forms, including advanced persistent threats (APT) and ransomware families that don’t claim any national allegiance.

The dramatic expansion of digital technology in the 20th century provided malicious actors a new attack vector in online piracy. While most countries have intellectual property laws and license compliance standards, software piracy remains a low priority for many governments.

Types of software piracy

Type Description
Counterfeiting Producing fake copies of software for resale
Hard disk loading Hardware producers load unauthorized software to machines for sale
Unbundling Selling parts of software meant to be bundled
Online piracy Universe of websites offering stolen software for download
Renting Lending authorized software to others outside of user agreement
Softlifting Loading a copy of software onto several machines when it’s meant for one

Consequences of using pirated software

  • Increased risk of malware infection
  • Damage to computer including slowed processing, malfunction, or failure
  • Less protection with no warranty or manufacturer support
  • Legal consequences for copyright infringement

Piracy: Targets and worst offenders

Online piracy makes up a quarter of Earth’s internet bandwidth. The most pirated items on the web include TV shows, movies, video games, music, books, and software. Windows OS (XP/7/10) takes the lead for most pirated software, with Microsoft Office not far behind. Other top pirated programs include a download accelerator, Internet Download Manager, antivirus software, and Adobe software.

In a review of software piracy worldwide, software company Revenera – which specializes in mitigating license compliance – released data on the worst offending nations. In 2021, piracy combined $17.1 billion in lost revenue from software vendors. The top ten offending countries in order are:

  • China
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Italy
  • India
  • France
  • Mexico
  • United States
  • South Korea
  • Germany

State of modern piracy

Technology innovation extends to every corner of the globe, including modern pirates. While cybersecurity professionals work to defend networks from the newest threats, advanced malicious actors might have the same tools and threat intelligence at their disposal.

Piracy is a constant threat on the internet. Every day individuals offer a bundle of sensitive data about themselves and others. Rogue hackers and nation-state operatives know how to target and take advantage of unexpecting internet users, often without the user even knowing.

Ransomware is one of the most critical threats to organizations today. Threat actors gain unauthorized access to a company network, move laterally to their network segment of choice, and can exfiltrate and encrypt the organization’s data. With access to critical data shut off, the organization must decide whether to pay the pirate’s ransom. In these instances, hackers display immense patience and attention to detail to avoid detection.