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Drug dealers and terrorists have been using counterfeit Microsoft software to fund their nefarious activities, according to a Microsoft release which Microsoft UK tells us hasn't gone out yet. Nor has our search for the smoking and the pistols been crowned with success so far, although a Microsoft spokesperson may have said something on the subject, somewhere.

Or maybe not. Although a Reuters report of the unreleased release has been scuttling around the world (12.59am PDT, well done the insomniacs at the Mercury), and it quotes a Microsoft EMEA piracy attorney on the subject, our very own Julia Philpott says she knows nothing of guns and drugs. Which is good to know.

Over in Paris, however, Sharon Golec-Keniger has allegedly been saying: "The counterfeit software trade is flourishing - and so are the nefarious activities of these criminals, such as drug running and terrorism, that counterfeiting is helping to fund." The way it happens, apparently, is that counterfeiters can use the Internet to distribute small quantities of software to consumers under the cloak of anonymity, then use the money to support global criminals and terrorist gangs.

Well, we're sure if Microsoft EMEA is going to stand by this it'll be able to furnish us with a few successful prosecutions, data on the odd Blofeld and the names of the relevant terrorist organisations. Alternatively, as The Register is the journal of record for all of these groups, we'd be happy to hear from some of you. Under the cloak of anonymity, of course.

But back to the real story, as told to us by Julia, with no guns and no drugs. Microsoft has been working with law enforcement agencies on nailing Web sites hosting counterfeit (or "allegedly counterfeit" software. This has resulted in a total of 38,065 "web takedowns," or removals, in the past eight months.

We asked Julia if she had a breakdown of the nature of the sites. For example, how many were actually selling the software as a business, how many were individuals trying to sell a single copy on an auction site, how many were dumb kids warezing Office somewhere? How many were international terrorists would have been good as well, but let's not digress again.

Julia didn't have that information, unfortunately. But the huge number of "takedowns" does surely suggest a very large proportion of individual cases, and the names named in the Reuters report (these may or may not be from the release that isn't out yet), are auction sites. As it says: "Internet auction sites have been a particular target of the operations." This month alone Microsoft sent 30 'cease and desist' letters to "targets that had sold counterfeit software in Germany on sites including IEZ Auktionen, offerto.de and Ricardo.de."

Julia warns that vendors of counterfeit software on the Internet might be selling the software at "only a slight discount" on the retail price, so you might not realise it was fake. But she warns: "If you are using something that is essentially stolen property, you are exposed." Purchasing from resellers outside of official channels carries a higher risk of leaving you with worthless and possibly virus-infested software, and things like Office 97, for example, are a dead giveaway. As Microsoft doesn't make Office 97 any more, there is a "99 per cent chance" that any copy for sale will be counterfeit, she says.

We've often puzzled over why people go to all the bother of counterfeiting software then foul it up at the last minute by putting viruses into it, but presumably it's a cunning part of the international terrorist conspiracy we can't fathom, but that our terrorist readership will set us right on when they tell us about the guns and drugs.

It's worrying news about Office 97 though - if you've got a copy of this rare and highly functional piece of software, best eat it, quick... ®

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