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Use an illegal copy and wipe your device clean

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Software piracy is bad.  No one disputes that fact and I know software developers lose sleep over pirated copies of their program flying around the internet over P2P networks.  From time to time a developer gets fed up and puts malicious code in a publicly distributed program so that something bad happens to anyone who uses an illegal copy of the software.  This has recently happened again and interesting discussions are flaring up with supporters of both sides of the argument marking their position in the sand and firing away at the other side.

Anton Tomov distributes a number of capable programs for the Windows Mobile platform including Pocket Hackmaster and Pocket Mechanic.  The program that is causing all the shouting matches in this case is Pocket Mechanic.  It appears that Mr. Tomov recently distributed an update to the Pocket Mechanic program that includes some malicious anti-piracy code.  Of course whether or not it is malicious depends on which side of the firing line you fall on.  The program apparently detects if the executed program is a legally licensed one and if not it erases your entire Windows Mobile device by hard resetting it.  It has reportedly wiped out a removable storage card, too.  I have contacted Mr. Tomov about this situation but have not gotten a response as of the time of this article.

Software developers must understand that consumers tolerate certain levels of inconvenience to help combat piracy but there is a limit.  Alienating your loyal customer base because they find your practice intolerable only makes you the developer the loser.  I wish all software pirates would just disappear but reality tells me they won’t do so and I sympathize with the developer who loses out as a result.  Even so I cannot use nor recommend any products that have the potential for causing damage to user’s computers or gadgets and once the developer takes that tactic I lose a great deal of trust in his practices.  May not be fair but that’s the way it is.  What are your thoughts on this practice?

46 Responses to “Use an illegal copy and wipe your device clean”

  1. As a software pirate (but one who feels eternally guilty for his practice, definitely), I completely sympathise with these people. I’m sure someone’s said this before, and I apologise for not reading over preveous posts, but software developers aren’t fighting against their own audience in this case. They’re going against the people who destroy their business.

    Oh well, just my two cents.

  2. This
    Mr Anton Tomov is Freaking out, what Nerve to Erase all the DAta , Personal Info, If it piracy he could just Nag or disable the Software from Running, but Destroy other Info and Data , That is Criminal act Not less than Piracy.
    If more people use it , even piracy , more Marketing is conduct , “Word of mouth” that de facto, If less will use it , less piracy and less Purchasing .
    I am against Piracy , i am developer too, But to erase – Hard Reset it is Crime and damage Personal properties, Mr Anton Tomov must think he is the New Master of the World or so , i think he should go down from his High Tree nad Compensate damaged info.
    Have nice day and Happy Programing..

  3. arebelspy

    That’s true jk, bt Anton I trust, and I don’t think it’s been violated in this case because everything was overblown.

    If he had made it so ALL illegal stuff was nuked and then scaled it back to just this one code that’s harder to trust.. but he started out with this simple mechanism and if it stays like that I fully spport him and his products (which are great, along with his customer service).


  4. It’s true the author says that is the only way you could wipe your device out but once a developer crosses that line with destructive code I’m not inclined to believe him/her when they state that. It’s a trust thing and once it’s been violated it’s hard for me to give it back.

  5. arebelspy

    Mike: You must have used a code that you illegally obtained then. He only blocked out ONE code that has been illegally shaared on various warez sites and IRC channels. If you would have just used the demo (30 days, donno how your PDA dying has anything to do with it) instead of stealing from this awesome developer it wouldn’t have happened, IMO.

    I was mad at first, thinking if someone typo’d they’d lose everything, but the way he did it (block out one illegal code) is perfectly fine to me, and those people deserve what they get.

    Please note that this is my personal opinion, and not the ones expressed by this site or its owners. :)


  6. This is complete bull #$%&! I had this happen a while back with his product. I installed the demo, never got a chance to use the program because my PDA died. Reinstalled it, entered a code ONLY to try the program, click ok and BAM, it hard reset my pda. Not only did it cause me the hasil of reinstalling and fixing everything but it also erased documents that have literaly caused me to lose over $500. I am still pisst at this guy. I respect the fact that he wants to protect his work, but why not edit the registry so that even if they reinstall the software, all they will get is a little message when they try to start the program saying u cant because you stole it. This guy needs to chill out.


  7. arebelspy

    This has been blown WAY out of proportion.. as it’s been stated, he only has it do this to ONE pirated key that can be found on various hacking and warez sites and IRC channels. Don’t use that one illegal key and you’re good. It’s not like this program will “accidentally” hard reset your PPC if you put in the wrong serial or something.


  8. I wish there is a bug in his program and 1 day it accidently delete everything in a registered user’s PDA. And hopefully that registered user will sue his ass….. :D

  9. Independent

    I do not know the specifics of Pocket Mechanic and developers are entitled to reasonably protect their products through nag screens, time limited trials etc. This is acceptable.

    What is unacceptable is to insert code to wipe data from someone’s handheld. It is unprofessional and i believe in most cases an unlawful act.

    My sympathathies towards the developer’s plight. But on wider implications of those actions, if i were one of the individuals affected, i would pursue legal action against the developer immediately.

    His/her general premise would leave everyone free to do such things. A precedent no doubt which could be exploited by the less principled.

  10. First of all I have never pirated software. I wouldnt do it because I wouldnt want someone else to do it to me. But the truth is that people do do it. Sometimes out of desperation or because they dont have a credit card (not every pocket pc owner has a credit card developers!), not to mention lack of demo apps. So in some ways I can understand piraters.

    Sure make it need a product key that changes, make it require a unique file or even have it installable on only one device. But adding malicious code? That is what software companies usualy frown upon. It’s the tactics of the piraters. It is defineatly not a good business move.

    What about these people who do heavy research on apps before they buy them. Like me for instance. I read alot of Pocket PC blogs and sites with news and reviews to see what people are saying about the apps out there. I was actualy about ready to decide that pocket mechainc was a decent program and call my friend to use his credit card. But then I found all these blogs about unfair anti-piracy. And wouldnt you know what app it is about.

    I will never buy any of his products. I dont support piracy and I dont support mal-ware. If I brought this app I would be supporting something worse than piraters.

  11. AGuy, if you would have read the comments, you would see that users expressed their fear that they might type in a key incorrectly and that their device would then reset :)

  12. Don’t pirate his shit and you won’t have anything to worry about. It’s unfortunate that more developers don’t do it.

    Would make the OSS world grow overnight.

    If it’s un the EULA and you don’t read it, then TFB.

  13. This is pretty appalling, really. I hope one of the people whose data was destroyed sues the guy, to make it worth his time implementing that “feature.”

    I’m sure the amount you can get by suing someone for that sort of damage is much greater than anything the Anton could get by counter-suing for software piracy. And then, that user who would obtain a large amount of money from Anton could go and spend it on a competitor’s product, just to really rub it in.

  14. John Smith

    Professional Software Developer here. I haven’t used Anton’s programs in the past, and now I certainly never will in the future.

    For one, how are we to trust that his code is bug free. Maybe an exception is thrown while checking the validity of the license key. The code doesn’t handle the exception correctly and assumes the key is invalid. It then proceeds to wipe out your entire device.

    Is it Open Source? Has it received a seal of approval from hundreds of developers who agree there is no possible way the license checking can error? Doubt it.

    Even if there was no way it could error out, the practice is dispicable and I hope he gets sued for it and loses. If you want to protect your product from piracy, then prevent it from being installed on more than 1 machine. Don’t wipe out a person’s data.

    Not every user in the world knows or understands all the rules of the license agreement (even if they did read it all). Some guy installs it on two of his devices thinking it’s ok to do so, and he wipes out the drive on the second one? I just truly hope he does it to the wrong person and gets in serious trouble for it.

  15. Dan Patele

    What happens when someone aquires a pirated copy of his software but think they bought a legitimate copy only to have their data destroyed from a booby-trap?

    Whose fault is that? The victim? The pirate? The rouge developer?

    Or does the victim get to absorb a double wammy just because the developer and the pirate are at war?

  16. Raj Phangureh

    Something similar to this already happened with a PalmOS developer’s software.

    I believe it was Liberty (Gameboy Emulator) for Palm. If it detected any hacking attempt, it would wipe out your Palm’s entire memory.

    I think the program was labelled a “Palm Virus” at that point. Perhaps I’m remembering it wrong, but I think that’s how it happened.

  17. I feel like this is Deja Vu…a similar thing happened to a Mac video editing program about a year ago.

    *Everyone* disagreed with the program author, and eventually, he changed his ways.

    I wish I had the thread in front of me..I seem to recall the folks at weighed in.

    Even other developers disagreed with this practice.

    The reality is that causing irreversible damage to someone’s data and hardware is essentially a criminal and hurtful behavior. It should not be tolerated. I doubt Anton will have many supporters in this.


  18. arebelspy

    Noooo.. I’m a big fan of Anton’s prodct as well as the man himself (very responsive, quick to implement user suggestions, help with questions, etc), I highly recommend him and all his products… or I have in the past. Now I’m not sure what to think. I’m trying not to have a knee-jerk reaction either way. I’ll have to think about this.


  19. This is interesting to hear. I was considering buying this program recently, installed the demo, ran the scandisk on my 1 gb sd card, and it was totally corrupted. I’ll never consider his programs again.

  20. Mike Cane

    I cannot agree with this at all.

    Look, there have been times when I just could *not* afford to pay for a piece of shareware and was grateful for the “share” part of that contract. Similarly for programs that “expired” after a trial period yet which could be resurrected using some sort of finessing. It was not my intent to pirate, to give copies to other people, or to deprive the author of his payment. Lack of money happens to everyone from time to time and can go on for an unexpected period of time. Program authors should take this into account.

    As for those who *do* pirate at the expense of one-man shops, these people are despicable and I don’t know what to do about the situation.

  21. I consider this an outright stupid move. I also used his products in the past (yes, legit) but this move is going to keep me from using them again.

    What happens if the application is unable to authenticate your key? Wipes your device? Granted, AS creates backups but only of your data, you’d still have to go thru the installation of all the apps again – which is, to put it nicely: a horror :-(

    I’d rather see an app that deletes itself, or at least force the user to actually buy the programm but not to wipe out the data.

    Bad idea, very bad.

    And for me – there is no “on the other hand” – such a move is just unacceptable. No matter who you are or how much you lost thru warezing.

    If someone would be stupid enough to delete my PC’s harddisk I would probably check with a lawyer and see what could be done about it. Especially if the condition that your disk will be wipped wasnt in the EULA…

  22. I’ve used Anton’s PocketHackmaster in the past, but I’m not so sure I will again. Regardless of where you stand on illegal software piracy (I am against piracy for the record), you have to be up front with your customers. I’m wondering if Anton indicated in advance what his software would do if it was run on an illegal copy of WM. Perhaps it is in his license agreement, but the reality is: very few people read those word for word.