There is a close and consistent correlation between the use of unlicensed software and malware as well as security threats, experts have warned.

In an open letter sent to business software users earlier this month, the Ministry of Science and Technology warned that "90 percent of illegal software available contain virus and malware, which is an ideal environment for hackers to enter your system.

"Enterprises using or installing software will have a 73 percent higher risk of losing important data, 55 percent risk of unrecoverable data when the host system is broken and a higher virus infection possibility for their partners and clients, which not only harms their own privacy, information security but also puts the community at risk.

"Illegal software is considered major threat and cause of cyber security attack."

Global research firm IDC earlier this year released a study it had done of private computers in 81 countries, in which it saw a close link between unlicensed software and malware.

"The higher the unlicensed private computer software rate in the country, the more malware generally encountered on private computers in that country," it said.

According to the report, in 2013 the unlicensed software rate for the US was 18 percent and the malware encounter rate averaged 13 percent per quarter.

In Indonesia, the figures were 84 percent and 44 percent.

In Vietnam they are 81 percent and 32 percent.

"While this correlation neither proves or disproves causation, it clearly shows that when unlicensed software rates are lower, malware encounter rates also are lower," the report said.

Roland Chan, senior director, compliance, at BSA | The Software Alliance in Asia Pacific told Vietnam News: "Not all cyber security threats come from malware, and not all malware comes from unlicensed software. But, it is abundantly clear that some malware does come from unlicensed software and most malware constitutes a cyber security threat.

"The dangers lurk in malware that can be embedded in the software, in the sites and sources from which the malware is obtained, and in the reluctance of users of unlicensed software to install security updates. But the evidence shows that unlicensed software is clearly associated with security threats from malware."

Malware and cyber attacks are dangerous and costly.

The IDC survey said malware problems associated with unlicensed software cost organisations nearly 500 billion USD in 2014. Organisations experienced malware incidents once every three minutes.

A report from the ministry shows that around 745 websites in Vietnam were attacked in one week between late August and early September last year.

Another attack last year on a series of large websites by hackers between October 13 and 18 caused enterprises using VC Corp's data centre a loss of billions of Vietnamese dong.

To reduce the risk of cyber security incidents, experts suggest eliminating use of unlicensed software.

Chan said "there are basic steps any company can take to ensure it is fully compliant, like establishing a formal policy on licensed software use and maintaining careful records."

He suggested that companies should consider more robust software assets management programmes that follow internationally-accepted guidelines.

"The programmes can deliver substantial value by ensuring adequate controls are in place to provide a full view into what is installed on a network. That helps organisations avoid security and operational risks."

A smart and effective online system that provides companies with a tool to register and manage software assets could also reduce security threats, experts said.-VNA