Most of us know at least one person who has used a pirated software before. With torrent sites, P2P clients, and file sharing becoming increasingly popular, it seems almost inevitable that every software will eventually be pirated and passed around. However, the people using pirated software aren’t usually getting the latest version, and of course, since they have a pirated copy, they do not have access to updates.

Behind the Scenes of a Software Company's Struggle Against Piracy

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Even so, developers obviously don’t want their hard-earned work being shared for free when it could be hurting their profits. The effects of the problem are largely unnoticed by the general public and sometimes even by the developers themselves. So, how do you gain control over the security of software and make sure it isn’t easily available for free? Well, the behind-the-scenes battle between developers and pirates typically looks something like this:

1. Securing Source Code

One of the ways pirates and hackers are able to bypass software access restrictions is by reverse engineering the source code. Once they have access to the source code they can peek and see what measures are being used to secure logins and license verifications within the software’s inner workings. Unfortunately, many licensees will request the source code or would prefer to have it, particularly if it’s software that their business depends on.

The concern is that the developers might eventually stop providing support and update the software, at which point it would stop working for the business and potentially create a workflow problem as a result. Of course, developers have the option of keeping their source code completely under wraps, but that might cause them to lose appeal with a certain percentage of users, especially business clients. One solution is to use software escrow services to provide the source code to authorized licensees in a secured online interface.

2. Monitoring Torrent and File Sharing Sites

As frustrating as it is for developers to have to look at the torrents of pirated software, that is an unavoidable part of the job description when it comes to combating piracy. It goes without saying that you have to stay aware of whether your software is out there on torrent sites and take action against the leaks as soon as possible. Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes to check the top torrent sites and keep it moving, but it’s definitely a key component of fighting against piracy.

It may be possible for the developers to null or void the license key that has been leaked or update the software server so that it no longer validates the pirated version. Thus, finding pirated copies of the software online isn’t just something the developers do to make themselves angry, it’s a way to discover leaks and hopefully correct them before they’ve downloaded hundreds or even thousands of times.

3. Controlling Online Access

Many software developers are switching from providing downloadable software to software-as-a-service (SaaS) because it allows them to host the program on a secure web server rather than openly distributing it to licensee’s machines via the web. The benefit of doing this is that people can only access the software through an online interface with valid login credentials. That way, someone would have to hack into the server to obtain the source code, which is highly unlikely. With a SaaS platform in place, your primary concern would be keeping users from sharing their login information.

However, noticing account abuse is easy in a SaaS setup because you can set up alerts for the server to notify you via email when an account is being logged into from many different IP addresses. The system can also be set up to automatically disable any suspicious accounts until they can be further reviewed by a member of the development team.

4. Disabling Pirated Licenses

Another challenge that developers face is cutting off pirated licenses so that they can’t be used anymore. The most common approach is to have the software “call home” to a web server for validation and require that the user inputs their login before using the app/program. That way, if a license is found to be a cracked copy, then the server can simply respond with a denial that stops the user from using the pirated copy again.

However, pirates will often instruct downloaders to disable their internet connection to thwart this attempt, so most of the time it only works on a percentage of the people using the pirated copy. Eventually, though, most users will accidentally attempt to start up the software while connected to the internet, and if they haven’t blocked your server in their hosts file, then their copy could be nulled.

5. Frequent Updates to Throw Off the Opposition

Finally, developers are constantly updating their software not only to keep users satisfied and to honor feature requests but also to stay one step ahead of pirates and hackers. If you’re constantly releasing new and improved versions, then it becomes almost impossible for the hackers to keep up. That way, even if they’re able to crack an old copy of the software, it still won’t be the equivalent to the latest update.

How Much Profit is Really Being Lost?

In the end, it’s important to really assess just how much money your company is losing to piracy before spending thousands to try to prevent it. If it turns out that there’s only one highly outdated version of your software available on torrent sites and there are only a few people seeding it, then it might be more worthwhile to simply work on safeguarding future versions and releasing a robust update that makes the previous pirated version even more obsolete than it already is.

Plus, you have to consider the fact that many people who are using the pirated version will probably purchase the full version when they can afford to do so. Therefore, in a way, having an old version of your software on torrent sites may even serve as a bit of an advertising tool because it gives people a free trial they can use until they can afford the full version. For that reason, many developers decide to go ahead and offer a free trial version on their official site to quench the thirst of people who can’t yet afford the full license.