What Are the Dangers of Downloading Unauthorized Software in the Workplace?


Unauthorized software downloads can cause problems for both employers and employees, disrupting work and damaging computers and networks through exposure to viruses, malware and security breaches. From the employer's perspective, these downloads may also have a negative effect on productivity and may cause legal problems. Employees may find that even harmless downloads put their jobs at risk.

Viruses and Malware

  • Unauthorized software likely does not go through an automatic security check so can introduce viruses and malware to a computer. If the computer is networked, the company's entire IT network could be compromised, possibly leading to system downtime while the problem is fixed. Malware may also give hackers access to confidential business and customer data -- this can damage a company's reputation and its bottom line, if customers lose trust and take their business elsewhere.

Reduced Productivity

  • If employees download games or other unneeded utilities such as video or audio players, for example, they may be tempted to play rather than work. Further, many companies monitor network activity and cite employees who download unauthorized programs. Such downloading can even affect the entire network, hogging bandwidth and adversely affecting other employees' work.

Legal Risks

  • Unauthorized software may also be a legal issue. People may, for example, download copyrighted materials, counterfeit programs and unlicensed software. They may introduce unsuitable materials into the workplace, such as pornographic images. Employers may not be aware of downloaded programs and content, but they may be held liable for them. For example, according to the Business Software Alliance, companies can be sued for copyright infringement if employees download unauthorized or illegal copies of software.

Disciplinary Action and Job Loss

  • Some companies have Internet usage policies with clauses prohibiting unauthorized software downloads by employees. If an employee breaches a policy, he may be subject to sanctions. Depending on the policy's terms, the employer may remove the employee's Internet access, take disciplinary action against him or even terminate his contract. If he is involved in illegal activities, he may also be open to civil and criminal prosecution. (See reference 4. policy issues section)

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