Large amount of desktop software in Canada is unlicenced and a major threat: Industry study

The amount of unlicenced and unsupported software in the desktop computers of Canadians continues to slowly drop but still poses a great risk to users, says an industry survey released Tuesday.

The survey by BSA The Software Alliance –which includes giants like Adobe, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Symantec — 22 per cent of software installed on PCs in this country in 2017, worth an estimated $819 million, was not licensed. That continues a steady drop from the first global survey in 2011, when 27 per cent of Canadian computers were estimated to have unlicenced software.

By comparison, 15 per cent of PCs in the U.S. had unlicenced software last year. Globally the number was 37 per cent, which .the report called “alarming.”

The software industry loses a lot of money from unlicenced applications, but the hammer it uses is that this unsupported software is a security risk by allowing malware to exploit unpatched vulnerabilities. So the report urges CIOs to thoroughly inventory the software on their machines “so they can reduce the risk of harmful cyber attacks and boost the bottom line.”

“Organizations now face a one-in-three chance of encountering malware when they obtain or install an unlicensed software package or buy a computer with unlicensed software on it,” the report estimates. “Each malware attack can cost a company US$2.4 million on average and can take up to 50 days to resolve. To the extent that the infection leads to company downtime, or lost business data, it can also seriously affect the company’s brand and reputation. The cost for dealing with malware that is associated with unlicensed software is growing too. It can now cost a company more than $10,000 per
infected computer, and cost companies worldwide nearly US$359 billion a year. Avoiding the security threats from malware is now the number one reason
CIOs cite for ensuring the software on their network is fully licensed.”

The report also quotes market research firm IDC — which did much of the research for this report — estimating that when companies take pragmatic steps to improve their software management, they can boost their bottom line by as much as 11 per cent.

Among the countries with high rates of unlicenced software are China (66 per cent) and Russia (62 per cent).

The report urges CIOs to use a software asset management tool to root out unlicenced applications. It also cites Microsoft studies of customers that achieved significant savings using such tools. It also urges governments, as the largest users of software, to take the lead in software asset management, as well as to beef up laws to reduce software copyright infringement.

“Organizations around the world are missing out on the economic and security benefits that well-managed software provides,” BSA chief executive Victoria Espinel said in a release. “Businesses should establish software asset management (SAM) programs to evaluate and manage the software on their networks.  This, in turn, helps organizations reduce the risk of debilitating cyber attacks and helps grow their revenues.”

The report is based on calculations of software sold around the world,  a global survey of more than 22,500 home and enterprise PC users, and a survey of 2,300 IT managers in 23 countries.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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