China, Addicted to Bootleg Software, Reels From Ransomware Attack


HONG KONG — China is home to the world’s largest group of internet users, a thriving online technology scene and rampant software piracy that encapsulates its determination to play by its own set of digital rules.

But as the country scrambles to recover from a global hacking assault that hit its companies, government agencies and universities especially hard, the risks of its dependence on pirated software are becoming clear.

Researchers believe large numbers of computers running unlicensed versions of Windows probably contributed to the reach of the so-called ransomware attack, according to the Finnish cybersecurity company F-Secure. Because pirated software usually is not registered with the developer, users often miss major security patches that could ward off assaults.

It is not clear whether every company or institution in China affected by the ransomware, which locked users out of their computers and demanded payment to allow them to return, was using pirated software. But universities, local governments and state-run companies probably have networks that depend on unlicensed copies of Windows.

Microsoft and other Western companies have complained for years about widespread use of pirated software in a number of countries that were hit particularly hard by the attack. A study last year by BSA, a trade association of software vendors, found that 70 percent of software installed on computers in China was not properly licensed in 2015. Russia, at 64 percent, and India, 58 percent, were close behind.

Zhu Huanjie, who is studying network engineering in Hangzhou, China, blamed a number of ills for the spread of the attack, including the lack of security on school networks. He said piracy was also a factor. Many users, he said, did not update their software to get the latest safety features because of a fear that their copies would be damaged or locked, while universities offered only older, pirated versions.

“Most of the schools are now all using pirate software, including operation system and professional software,” he said. “In China, the Windows that most people are using is still pirated. This is just the way it is.”

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