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Disclaimer: No illegal activity is condoned in this post. The legality of the described activity varies from country to country.

I remember in the early 00's, when peer to peer file sharing was booming. I would download music from Kazaa. After a few months of happy piracy, I would start getting these music files that were fine for the first 15 seconds, but then started making a horrible buzzing sound for the rest of the track. My 13 year old self speculated that these files may have been intentionally seeded in great numbers by the RIAA or someone like that, in an attempt to flood the network and thus make it useless. They seemed the most likely candidate with means, motive and opportunity to seed so many files on such a large scale. It didn't take long before "verified" file sharing sites started being a popular starting place for p2p.

Recently, on sites like The Pirate Bay, I've seen that there are files that have a huge amount of seeders, but no comments, and they were typically all posted less than a day ago. Typically, the same user has posted many different files like that, and they all have a huge amount of seeders. I have downloaded many such torrents. (Running them in virtual machines for experimental purposes.) Quite often, I have found them to be packed with malware and viruses. (Not just the keygens, which often give false positives, but actual malware that flood your system with advertisements, etc). In other cases it may just be a version of a game that appears to work, but promptly crashes 10% into it, or something like that.

In a normal situation, one would expect the best, cleanest and most functioning version of a program to get the most seeders, as that one would have the best comments under it, and be shared around and accessed the most. Yet that is often not the case. Usually you have to go quite a bit down the list to actually find a good torrent with good comments.

Who are regularly reuploading these bad/infected versions of software, and seeding them on a large scale? Who has the means, motive and opportunity to do this?

One thing that comes to mind is botnets who just want to distribute adware, and thus make money. That's quite possible. But that doesn't explain versions of software that simply don't work, or appear to work at first, but malfunction after a short time (no adware).

If I was Adobe, or Rockstar Games, or Microsoft or someone like that, I would recognize what an incredible blow online piracy is to my company's revenue. These companies' income would increase immensely if online piracy disappeared or was greatly reduced. And actually, trying to find pirated versions of software and instead getting all these fakes and malware on top of the list, is a great deterrent that probably stops lots of people from pirating, leading many of them to buy the software instead.

If I was these companies, I would find uploading and seeding this stuff on a large scale quite a good idea, in an attempt to combat piracy of the software I sell.

But, would it be illegal of them to do so? Sure, they are only punishing people who are already breaking the law. (Unless someone was in a country that hasn't banned piracy), but would it still be illegal for a company to distribute viruses in that way? I mean, the viruses may spread further, infecting innocent people's computers.

Is there any evidence that software companies actually engage in this form of piracy prevention? You may include instances where a company has paid a proxy entity to engage in the activity for them.

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  • This is a very broad question and most of this (including the legal aspects) is off-topic here. Please read what is on-topic and restrict your question to this. Apr 16, 2016 at 17:18
  • @SteffenUllrich Are you sure about the off topic part? What about this question? security.stackexchange.com/questions/20806/…
    – Fiksdal
    Apr 16, 2016 at 17:20
  • I find the question you referenced off-topic too because it exclusively deals with legals aspects. Apr 16, 2016 at 17:23
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    It would make a big difference if the fake software was just non-functional, or actively damaged the user's computer. The latter would certainly be illegal in the UK, and I expect most countries.
    – paj28
    Apr 16, 2016 at 18:29
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    @paj28 Note that non-functional fake software which causes system crashes might be considered illegal, as well.
    – A. Darwin
    Apr 16, 2016 at 19:22

1 Answer 1

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I would suspect that intentionally causing harm to other peoples' computers is illegal in most parts of the world. I also believe that in most parts of the world someone committing a crime against you (or in this case just having the intention to do so) does not necessarily give you the right to commit a crime against them. But as with most people on this website, my area of expertise is technology, not law. So I would refer you to the people on law stackexchange which might explain this far better than we could.

No, these malware-infested pirated copies are usually spread by criminals who have no affiliation with the game companies and are looking for an easy way to grow their botnets.

Regarding low-quality versions which malfunction after a while: There is a huge competition between piracy groups to be the first to release a certain game. That means they often do not take time to test the game properly to make sure that all copy protection features are disabled properly and without breaking anything. Also, games are sometimes leaked and pirated before the actual release (a common source are press pre-release copies), so various last-minute patches and bugfixes might not be applied yet which do exist in the actual release version.

But I know of one case where a company openly admitted to uploading a modified version of their game to piracy websites. However, their modifications were not malicious. They just made the game unplayable in a quite original way:

When we released our very first game, Game Dev Tycoon (for Mac, Windows and Linux) yesterday, we did something unusual and as far as I know unique. We released a cracked version of the game ourselves, minutes after opening our Store. [...] The cracked version is nearly identical to the real thing except for one detail… [...] as players spend a few hours playing and growing their own game dev company, they will start to see the following message, styled like any other in-game message

Boss, it seems that while many players play our new game, they steal it by downloading a cracked version rather than buying it legally. If players don’t buy the games they like, we will sooner or later go bankrupt.

Slowly their in-game funds dwindle, and new games they create have a high chance to be pirated until their virtual game development company goes bankrupt.

And then they amused themselves about the software pirates who posted on the official support forum complaining that the software piracy game mechanic is completely overpowered and that there should be a way to take legal actions against the software pirates or develop DRM technology to stop them.

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    Haha, the story about Game Dev Tycoon is very funny. Especially the users coming to the official forums and complaining. Skilled trolling.
    – Fiksdal
    Apr 17, 2016 at 11:57
  • By the developers, I mean.
    – Fiksdal
    Apr 17, 2016 at 13:21
  • I am speculating, but some users test a game / program and later buy it, sometimes even years later. If they test it and it does not work, they might later not buy it and even think that the company that made the game / program does not develop good products. Would be interesting to find out if these methods have an impact or not.
    – hamena314
    Jul 29, 2016 at 8:18
  • +1 for the Game Dev Tycoon anecdote.
    – Fax
    Jan 30, 2019 at 12:43

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