Chinese PCs running on bootleg versions of the Windows operating system (OS) are prone to security issues, says Microsoft, as it launched a new anti-piracy campaign to highlight the security risks inherent to running pirated software.

As part of a recent investigation, Microsoft purchased 169 PCs from shops in China; all of the PCs were running counterfeit copies of Windows, and 91% of the machines came with malware or deliberate security vulnerabilities. PCs installed with the pirated copies of Windows include well-known brands Acer, Dell, HP, and Lenovo, among other Chinese computer makers. It is understood that the pirated OSs are likely installed by a third party who preloads Windows over the non-Windows OS that are originally on these machines when they leave the factory. The Computerworld article that reported this story also noted a study by the Business Software Alliance that pegged China’s illegal software market is valued at $9 billion (compared to the legal market at $2.7 billion).

Though it wasn’t mentioned in the Computerworld article, it is likely that malware were inadvertently loaded through cloning of an infected copy. Cracked copies of Windows could also see Windows Update disabled to prevent Microsoft from detecting them. The latter is an especially serious problem given that such machines will get progressively more vulnerable as security updates and patches are released on Patch Tuesdays each month.

Software piracy in the region can be a tricky problem to solve on a number of levels. One of the primary problems pertains to cost — that few hundred dollars for a legitimate copy of a software application could stack up to a full month’s wages for a professional in China. To its credit, Microsoft China has long attempted to address this by pricing Windows substantially lower in the country.

The other issue has to do with a culture of piracy in China, as well as some other countries in the Asia region. In some locales, it is possible to find shops that sell only pirated software. This widespread availability of counterfeit software puts intense pressure on local businesses determined to use only licensed applications, due to the higher operational cost that they incur over their competitors. On the other hand, businesses that succumb to the pressure reinforce the culture of piracy.