The Standard Disclaimer That Obviously Must Be Included Or Else I Might Have My Conscience Knocking At My Door With A Bag Of Guilt: I do not imply by the recording of these facts that I condone people depriving others of potential profits. I would highly advise that you read up on the issues regarding software piracy, regardless of your decision to steal...

driptray has pointed out that this node is not about "stealing" software, but rather the illegal copying and use of software. I agree with him, as this is a key argument for (or at least not against) softare piracy: no physical objects are being stolen, and the only thing lost is potential revenue.

Ok, fine. Let's get down to business. I'm assuming that you don't need to have explained to you WHY you might want to steal software.

How Commercial Software Works

To make money from commercial software, the licensor (makers of software title Foo) must have a way of ensuring that the only people who get to use their software are people who paid for it. This is accomplished through a number of different measures, usually depending upon the price (not necessarily value) of the software.

At the lowest end lies Shareware, most often used by small developers who are selling licensing games or utilities. The concept behind Shareware is that person A downloads a copy of the software off of the internet and is then free to distribute it to persons B, and C, who can then distribute it further. This model has, with the advent of a relatively high-speed internet, become a system where a potential end user has the opportunity to try before he or she buys.

Due to the distributive nature of shareware, the end user must:

  • Be able to use the software before they buy it.
  • Be encouraged to buy the software if they do use it.
This is done one of two main ways: A "full" version is distributed, with either partial functionality (crippled), a timer that locks the software after thirty days (time delay), or that simply uses popups at startup or during functioning to encourage the user to pay to remove the annoyances.

A user is then supposed to pay the author a small amount of money (usually $10 to $20), upon which the author of the software will send a serial number that will unlock the software, providing full functionality with no distractions.

The second way, while somewhat slower and less automated, provides for slightly better protection: A demo version is publicly available, and a full version is provided or shipped to the payer. The full version usually will also be shipped with a unique serial number. This, at least, makes people either pay or search somewhat harder for illicit copies of the software. Adobe Software, for example, implements this: You cannot download anything more than a demo from their web site; to get the full version, you need to either buy a copy online or go to the store. Note, however, that Adobe Photoshop is, perhaps, the most widely pirated piece of software in the United State.

How To Steal Software:


Well, OK. Now that we've seen HOW software is protected, you've probably got a pretty good idea of what is needed to get around this protection.

The first step, of course, is to get a "full" version of the software; software that contains the same code that someone who paid would get. Most shareware is functional when you download it, secured only by a serial number.

There are two main methods for acquiring software that cannot be downloaded directly from the company's website: the gnutella network and HotLine. Hotline is the more advanced, more intimidating of the two, so I'll cover that last.

The gnutella network is a group of computers connected to the internet that all function as servlets - they can upload to other computers, and they can download from other computers. A directory is set aside for data to be shared; the gnutella client (software used to access the network) searches only in that directory for software. A very good client is LimeWire; it provides excellent searching and filtering capabilities, and comes in free and paid ($10) versions.

Using LimeWire is quite simple: simply click the category of software you wish to acquire (Applications, Audio, Movies, Pictures, etc), enter a search term, and click 'Search'. After a few seconds, a list of items found on the network that you might be interested in appears. Select something that looks promising, and you're off! Depending on how many people have the software, you can get very good speeds: With a cable modem downloading the same file from three computers at once, I've seen rates hit 100 KB per second.

LimeWire implements a primitive way of saving partial downloads to resume at a later time. However, Hotline is much more advanced in this area.

Hotline is a system with servers (about 2000 at any given moment) and clients; you cannot have anyone download if you are running a client. You can, however, upload to and download from servers that you access. Each server functions something like a chat room; each has its own rules and regulations. Some servers (very very few) are free; most charge you money to download. Some have very good rates - three dollars for a permanent acccount, while some do not ($10 for a 24 hour account). PayPal is the method by which you may gain a paid account.

You access each server on an account. Some servers require you to input a username and password - this keeps indexing bots out. The defualt user can see what can be downloaded, and can upload to the server, but cannot actually download. Paying the server maintainer will have him or her create an account with downloading privileges for you.

Download rates usually average about 20 KB per second; some for-pay servers have fewer clients downloading and more bandwidth, and so can get up to 50KB per second.

The two main advantages of Hotline are HPFs and the server model. HPF stands for Hotline Partial File - when you download something from a Hotline server, it is stored as an HPF until the download is complete. A HPF can be resumed from any point in the download, so spending fourteen hours downloading a file, only to have your computer crash right before it's done downloading is no longer a problem.

Unlike on LimeWire (gnutella), which requires that the person you are downloading from keep his client running while you download, the server model implemented by Hotline helps eliminate this. While the sever software running on the server you are downloading from CAN be shut down by the administrator, it rarely is, which means that once you find a server with what you want on it, you are much more likely to be able to get that file next week.

Well, speaking of finding the files you want, that reminds me of Hotline's most important attribute: Hotline has higher quality content than does LimeWire. Many servers require you to upload before or while you download, and most people upload the same types of things - games, songs, Mac apps, etc. Hotline servers that you connect to thus have very high ratios of things you might like to things you won't. HL servers are also organized with directories, which makes finding things a breeze.

And, of course, there are trackers. Online, allows you to search all Hotline (and Carracho) servers by filename, file type, server name, or server description.

That said, I don't recommend getting songs or other small files from Hotline; it's too much of a hassle for anything under 100 MB.


OK, now you've got your shiny new nugget of gold. The next step is unlocking it.

There are three primary ways of getting serial numbers: You can search Hotline or LimeWire for the serials (the server you downloaded from, if you used Hotline, probably also has the serial for you software). You can try to get a serial database, such as Surfers Serials (Mac-only, I believe, but I could be wrong). Surfers Serials is a searchable list of software titles and serials, crackz and URLs associated with that particular title.

Your third option, and probably the most unsavory, is searching Usenet. A number of complications arise here: Google will allow you to search most groups EXCEPT for alt.binaries.*, which is the category that you will want to get. Most news servers are for-pay. A few free news servers exist, but they are generally rather klunky and not entirely reliable.

Unfortunately, the main problem with Usenet, apart from the horrible spamming done, is the fact that hours or even minutes after a new serial is posted on Usenet, it is quickly assimilated into the gnutella and Hotline networks.

Once you have both the software and the serial, mix to get a registered copy of your favorite piece of software. Congratulations! You're a pirate!