A survey has found that a significant proportion of data loss and identity theft is caused by viruses and malware transmitted via pirated software.
The study, conducted by Microsoft, has found that consumers and businesses can easily become victims of a security breach if they unwittingly download files which are shared online and breach copyright, as hackers are using these tempting files to piggyback their own malicious software.
The survey covered one thousand UK adults and asked whether they used illegally obtained programs at work or at home. Nearly 17 per cent of respondents said that they did.
Microsoft carried out the survey in order to assess the attitudes of UK citizens towards piracy and privacy and its publication has come at a significant time in the context of data protection, as the Digital Economy bill is potentially to be brought into effect before the general election is held.
60 per cent of respondents said that they were aware of the heightened risk posed by pirated software as opposed to other illegally downloaded media such as film or music.
Security expert Susie Winter told the Telegraph that identity theft and data loss could be unwanted symptoms of illegal software downloads. She said that innocent employees could often become victims in certain cases when a firm was knowingly using illegally downloaded software without the knowledge of its staff.
62 per cent of respondents said that they had seen their computer systems infected with a virus as a result of downloading and using pirated software. 31 per cent admitted that the pirated software had contained malware that led to data loss and further security headaches, with 38 per cent experiencing system crashes and failures as a result.
In London it was admitted that 14 per cent of staff were using pirate programs whilst at work. Of this group, nearly 60 per cent said that their superiors were not of the opinion that using illegally downloaded programs was unacceptable.
Experts say that businesses can come up with many excuses if they are discovered to be using pirated software, but that these are inadequate in addressing the consequences, which may include fines, data loss and perhaps most damaging of all, diminishing consumer trust in their brand.