Avast fires broadside at 770,000 pirates

Pirate-themed maker of anti-virus software Avast has been tracking the activities of more than three quarters of a million unregistered users of its products and has traced at least a couple to an unlikely location.

The Prague-based company, which says it prides itself on the way its AV packages spread virall,y picking up new punters via word-of-mouth recommendations, is not quite so proud of the way one user licence has grown.

Apparently, this 14-user password was sold to a small company in Tuscon Arizona in June 2009, and by late 2010 was being used by 774,651 pirates all over the world, two of them in the Vatican. Looks like the eighth commandment counts for nowt when it comes to software.

Refreshingly, the company is taking the whole affair with what appears to be good humour and is currently sending out less-than-subtle hints that Avast Pro users without a valid licence might like to either downgrade to the free version, or cough up some cash if they want to continue using the stolen booty.

"We made a decision to see just how viral this one licence for Avast! Pro Antivirus could be. The answer is ‘very’," said company bigwig Vince Steckler. "Now we are in the process of converting these pirates over to legal products."

According to Steckler, the vast majority of the dodgy downloads came from warez sites, which have become notorious of late for seeding commercial software infected with malicious code.

"We found our licence code at a number of warez sites around the globe,” he said. “There is a paradox in computer users looking for ‘free’ antivirus programs at locations with a known reputation for spreading malware."

The Avast! Virus Lab has documented several examples of warez sites distributing packages of a ‘cracked’ antivirus program combined with malware which will do more to clean out your bank account than your PC.

Cracked copies of the software have been spotted on computers in more than 200 countries with Russia, Mexico and Brazil filling in the top three.

Apparently the free version of Avast uses the exact same antivirus engine as the paid-for version, which has the added benefits of a virtualisation sandbox and a script shield which scans for Internet-transmitted script viruses.

Bogus users are being sent pop-up notices warning that they'll be excommunicated from the company's virus database update servers if they don't toe the line sharpish.

Far be it from us to call this a clever bit of marketing, but having access to more than 770,000 people who are already happily using your software has got our Cynic Sense twitching like burgery.