According to a study by Software Alliance, BSA, 41% of UK small business that bought illegal software believes their details were used in identity theft. Nearly 30% also had their credit card copied as a result.
The research also reveals that a significant number of businesses knowingly downloaded illegal software. More than in five admitted to using a software key generator for business purposes, which BSA research says is a clear act of piracy.
70% of businesses who purchased OEM software without the hardware did so more than once.
The same applied to repeat free downloads of normally- paid- for software from torrent sites (83%) and warez sites (67%).
"The practice of downloading illegal software amongst small businesses is clearly widespread. The research suggests that a large number of UK businesses have an unclear understanding of what constitutes illegal software use, at best; and a blatant disrespect for copyright law and business ethics, at worse," said Michala Wardell, UK committee chair of BSA.
"It's encouraging to see that many of these businesses have taken action to address the error, often at their own expense. But to avoid undue costs and security risks, businesses need to be more vigilant about where they buy their software from in the future. As things stand, too many small businesses are exposing themselves to unnecessary hazards."
However, other small businesses downloaded illegal software by accident. A significant number then took action to fix the situation after discovering they had been tricked into buying fraudulent software.
51% of small businesses replaced the illegal software with a legitimate copy. Others paid for a legal software key (27%) or uninstalled the software but did not replace it (10%).
"The BSA research confirms our suspicions that while some small businesses are knowingly and opportunistically downloading illegal goods, a significant proportion of companies are being fooled into buying illegal software. It's easy to assume that if a website is easily searchable online, the software is genuine," said Handley Brustad, Joint Lead Intellectual Property officer at the Trading Standards Institute.
"Small businesses are leaving themselves open to security threats, liability claims and more. While we strive to bring down dishonest traders, we rely upon businesses to take proper precautions when purchasing their software. If any business is in need of any information or guidance they should contact their local Trading Standards Department."