Illegal and Cracked keys
Product keys are usually an alphanumeric code used to activate the full features and functionality of a piece of software. These may also be known by other names such as Serial Numbers, Activation Keys or Activation Codes, 5x5 Installation Keys. The key would be obtained from the software manufacturer with the purchase of the program in question and provided in the form of an OEM key sticker physically attached to the device or on a retail box or a product key card or an online activation through a single purchase or as part of a licensing agreement.
A cracked or illegal key would be one that has not been obtained in a legitimate way from the software manufacturer or an authorised reseller, or is being shared when this is not allowed. These can be obtained from an unauthorised reseller, via auction sites such as eBay or by using a keygen tool. The software installed by the end user may have originated from the original manufacturer OR it may be downloaded from a suspect website.
Using a cracked or unauthorised key could and associated software present one or more of the following risks:
The use of illegally installed software and use of illegal/cracked keys within an organisation can be reported to the Federation of Software Theft (FAST) at: https://www.fast.org/report-piracy
During the last few years software publishers have increasingly been moving to the cloud as a means to access and distribute their software. Software distribution via physical means is reducing but is not dead. Software products continue to be pre-installed on PCs. Many products remain available as “boxed” products. Older software (either unused or second hand) remains readily available via liquidation sales, online auction sites and other online sites, high-street markets and car boot sales. In many countries of the world software is regularly sold on CD in local markets. This means illegal copies of software are still in circulation and will be for years to come. This exposes the unsuspecting customer to two problems: counterfeit and unlicensed software. It is commonplace to discover illegally copied or counterfeit software pre-installed on PCs. It is also quite easy to buy illegal software copies over the internet without realising it. There is a rampant online industry offering illegally sourced software. Many of these websites last only one day and are replaced with a different website name the following day. Sometimes the pricing is obviously too good to be true. Other times the pricing seems a little cheap but fair. One key feature to look out for is software that is offered as a download with a separate product key or serial number with which to activate the product. Avoid these unless it is sold by a reputable source.
Activation keys supplied with downloadable product are often are expired, blocked, fake or stolen activation codes. If the keys are invalid your product may not work at all, or will work with reduced functionality, or you may not receive online updates that normally help keep you secure.
Software is often available on a trial basis. By all means use this if you get it from a legitimate source. But don’t be tempted to hack the activation keys to extend your trial indefinitely. This is simply illegal and fraudulent. It’s like keeping a loan car indefinitely – would you do that?
Software vendors offer attractive discounts to deserving users such as students, schools, universities and charities. If you qualify then you should make use if these offers. But don’t be tempted to lie to obtain cheap deals. It is quite simply illegal and you can be prosecuted for this deception. Also you do a disservice to those deserving users who might otherwise receive better deals.
Basically you are mis-licensed if you don’t license all your software, or you buy the wrong type of licenses (for example buying Academic licenses when you are a commercial organisation), or when you fail to procure enabling licenses (e.g. CALs) that are required to use what you have installed. For example, users often require a CAL (Client Access License) in order to access a central resource such as a file server, authentication server or database server. These enabling licenses are just a paper license and nothing is physically installed. The terms and conditions of your main software products will make it clear what is required. It is important that you ensure you understand the licensing terms to get this right. Another area of mis-licensing is grey-imports. Software is often sold for use in a particular country. This is because there are trade laws and rules within a given region such as the EU that govern import of goods and services. Tariffs, taxes and import duty will usually be levied on imports. Software procured for use in the EU should be bought from legitimate EU resellers or bought direct from the software publisher.
By copying software, or in any other way using it but not paying for it, you are helping to bump up the cost to other users who legitimately procure their software. This is Intellectual Property theft and is a criminal offence. Similarly, avoiding import duties is an offence. When you are caught you will be penalised and have to pay the cost of the software you ought to have paid for initially as well as compliance purchase going forward together with discounts in doubt. The worst offenders can be imprisoned. Your organisation may receive unwanted publicity about the issue and have its reputation damaged, suffer consequential damage to your sales or other source of income, or in the worst case this could irreparably damage your organisation.