IT Consulting and Tech Support Blog

The Cost of “Free” Software

Have you ever been tempted to try to acquire expensive software without paying for it? It turns out that “free” software can be more expensive than one might think!

Take Photoshop for example: Subscribers can sign up and start using Photoshop for as little as $10, a far cry from the high upfront cost that it used to be, in the range of $600+. Adobe’s move to this subscription model makes it easy for aspiring artists or even amateur photographers to use the professional software at a reasonable cost.

Don’t want to pay? Cracked versions of Photoshop are illegal, and trying to obtain them can lead to more than just legal trouble. A Google search for “Photoshop crack”, “Photoshop key”, or similar keywords can yield a wide array of results. It’s possible that some of these results will actually lead to a download of Photoshop. However, many of them can lead to pages full of malware, viruses, or worse.

When searching for a “free” version of copyright protected information or product, there is a high probability of coming across websites that are less than trustworthy. Often times, these sites have malicious advertisements or pop-ups that are created to harm the computer and the entire network that is connected to it.

New River Computing has seen quite a few “ransomware” infections in recent weeks as a result of Flash ads from searches, malicious email links, and more. Here’s an example of what can go wrong:

We received a call about some files not being accessible. Our engineers connected to the server and immediately noticed the issue—all of the client’s files had been encrypted by a malicious virus. Our team jumped into action right away and disabled access to the server to stop the encryption process. The next step was to identify the infected computer. After a bit of digging, the computer was identified and steps were taken to determine how it became infected. By stepping through the web browser’s search history, several sites associated with free software were identified. Many of these sites contained pop-ups and Flash-based ads. It was eventually determined that the infection came from a compromised Flash ad stream.

Here’s how the virus works:

  1. The virus installs using a security flaw
  2. It searches for files to encrypt, scanning the network for shared folders on other computers and servers
  3. Then the virus encrypts (locks or conceals) the files and folders making it impossible for you to retrieve them
  4. The virus reveals itself when you try to access a file or folder and you see a pop up with an “800” number to call for the ransom
  5. If you call the number and pay them, they may release your files and folders; or they could take your credit card information and go on vacation

After all is said and done, several engineers worked simultaneously in order to regain control and scrub the network, adding up to about 11 hours, with the cleanup cost totaling around $1500. Comparing the costs of a virus remediation vs the costs of paying for Adobe Photoshop: For the same price as the infection cleanups, the user could have had the full Photoshop subscription for 30 months (2 ½ Years) or just the photography suite for 150 months (or 12 ½ years.).

We should note that we were able to restore all files that had been encrypted, because there was a complete and current backup.

As Robert H. Heinlein once said, “TANSTAAFL!” (There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.)

 

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