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I suppose cracks are an occupational hazard. Sooner or later someone is going to crack your software. It is just a fact of life. There's actually no way to prevent it. Some protection methods are better than others but the best hackers will always find a way round them. There's a limit to how much time should be spent on beefing up protection that can never be 100% secure anyway.

But cracks can be dangerous. Many contain viruses or Trojans. The hacker will insert malicious code and the cracked software becomes a trojan horse for the unwitting and will infest their computer. Even those that don't have viruses in them may have problems. Sometimes the hacker may miss hidden protection mechanisms which don't manifest themselves clearly. When these surface the software is likely to crash and could potentially harm your computer. The crack could cause instability due to insecure modifications to the executable. It is therefore unwise to rely on cracked software. Furthermore, don't expect to get support from the developer if you are using illegally obtained software.

How can you tell if the software you have downloaded is cracked? First, look to see if the Digital Signature is intact. Right click on the file in Windows Explorer. Is there a Digital Signature tab? For example you will see MJT Net Ltd in the list of signatures if you right click on the Macro Scheduler executable. If the file has been tampered with in some way the signature won't be there. Without the signature Windows XP will pop up warnings when you try to run it. If the signature is not there it means someone has modified the executable and it could therefore be buggy or virus ridden. Delete it and download the authorised version from the official source instead.

What really annoys me about hackers is not their ability to hack the software itself. Ethical hackers tell you they have circumvented the protection but do nothing more. They deserve respect for their abilities. But those that then post the software on download sites deserve nothing. These people are potentially stealing developers' livelihoods. What they often don't consider is who is behind the software they have cracked. Not all developers are huge, faceless corporations like Microsoft. Many developers are small companies, working long hours to pay their mortgages and bills. People like us. Small companies who develop their wares to make an honest buck and ensure the security and safety of their families. Not rich people. Ordinary people selling their software to make ends meet. By hacking our software and making it available to people on the web hackers are sending the message that it is alright to take income away from us. I ask you - what have we ever done to these people? What makes them think it is alright to take income away from us honest, hard working people?

A far more worrying trend is the increase in credit card fraud, and fully registered versions of software appearing on file download sites and file sharing networks. Why bother trying to hack software when all you need to do is buy the full version with a stolen credit card and then give it away? But if you ever find full versions on file sharing networks consider how it got there. Credit card fraud is organised crime. Stolen credit card numbers are obtained/sourced by networks of organised criminals. One thing is for sure - these people don't just deal in stolen credit cards. They are often involved in far worse - drug trafficking, people smuggling, violent crime etc. Ok, the person that used the stolen credit card to obtain the software might not be one of these people. But chances are the credit card was obtained by someone who is, or at the very least is linked to someone who is.

So next time you consider downloading an illegal copy of some piece of software, think about how it got there. Think about what you are endorsing and who you are supporting. Think about the ordinary software author who works hard every day, just like you do, to pay his mortgage. And think about the victims of those that steal credit cards - ordinary people just like you. Posted on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 10:58 AM | Back to top

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