Microsoft's Zoe Krumm on forefront of fight against piracy
Amid the engineers and programmers roaming the Microsoft campus, Zoe Krumm stands out. Instead of talking XML and HTML5, she talks FBI and ICE. Krumm is on Microsoft's worldwide anti-piracy team — a job that's not unlike a crime-scene analyst.
Seattle Times technology reporter
Job: Senior business intelligence manager in the worldwide anti-piracy team at Microsoft
Residence: Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood
Education: Currently in MBA program at Seattle University; master of education from University of Washington; B.A. in psychology from UW.
Workplace experience: In her 10 years at Microsoft, Krumm has worked as a business analyst, senior business analyst and senior business intelligence manager. Before that, she was a data analyst on contract with Microsoft.
Extracurricular: Rowing, swimming, running, sailing.
How to tell if your product is genuineMICROSOFT has a website that helps determine if your Microsoft software and hardware are genuine: www.microsoft.com/howtotell
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Amid the engineers and programmers roaming the Microsoft campus, Zoe Krumm stands out.
Instead of talking XML and HTML5, she talks FBI and ICE.
Rather than tracking the number of bugs, she tracks the number of raids.
Tall, stylish and athletic (she rows, swims and runs marathons), Krumm is a senior business intelligence manager — one of seven — on Microsoft's worldwide anti-piracy team — a job that's kind of like being a crime-scene analyst.
Trying to figure out how a suspected counterfeit product fits into a bigger pattern? Call on Krumm.
Urgently need someone to pull together data while a raid of a counterfeiting ring warehouse is under way? Krumm again.
Her role is to pull in and make sense of thousands of pieces of piracy-related data that come in each month from a wide variety of sources. She sorts out the links between them to come up with the bigger picture.
She pores over the data to figure out, say, how a suspected fake product from a customer in Peoria might be tied to products purchased from a reseller in Houston, who might be tied to a customs seizure in San Antonio, which might be tied, ultimately, to a counterfeit ring in another country.
She also has to make sure the big picture and the nitty-gritty details are conveyed in such a way that they're useful to forensics experts, law-enforcement officers and lawyers who are on the front lines battling piracy.
"Zoe can find anything," said Tom Montgomery, a senior program manager in anti-piracy investigations at Microsoft, who's worked with Krumm for 10 years. "When she does research, there's none better. Put her on the trail of something and, I tell you, Zoe will find it."
For someone who got into anti-piracy work in a roundabout way — through rowing, in a way — Krumm is passionate about the issue.
Source of losses
Piracy is a big problem for software companies such as Microsoft. The company won't say how much it loses each year from counterfeiters selling fake Microsoft products. Nor will it disclose how much it spends combating the problem. But it cites the Business Software Alliance's estimate that software-piracy losses among tech companies totaled $59 billion worldwide in 2010.
Customers themselves, of course, are also harmed, Krumm says, not just because they've bought fake products. These days, with software increasingly sold online, pirates are moving there, too, meaning victims could unwittingly be downloading viruses and malware along with counterfeit software.
"It makes you very passionate about the work because you know there are people who are being deceived," she says. "They think they're buying genuine, spending a lot of money, and you know they're buying counterfeit. And there are criminals sitting behind the syndicate making a lot of money."
Clues tip team off
Inside Krumm's office on the Microsoft campus, she shows the differences — some subtle and minute, others large and glaring — that tip her team off to counterfeit products.
There's a Windows 7 box that has a misspelling of the word "responsive."
Or a software disc where the hologram is a sticker — meaning it's fake — rather than a hologram embedded in the disc.
Krumm, 39, is one of 75 employees — about 10 of them in Redmond — on Microsoft's worldwide anti-piracy team.
On a typical day, she might try to figure out whether a counterfeit product that's just come in is something they've never seen before, guide investigators at a raid on details to look for on software boxes, put together a heat map of where leads on counterfeits are coming from, and listen to customers talk about the language counterfeiters used to persuade them to buy their wares.
Leads from customers
Since 2005, Microsoft has received nearly 400,000 leads from customers around the world, 2,850 alone from Washington state.
The typical submission comes from someone who bought counterfeit software off an online marketplace or downloaded it from a fake Microsoft site.
Microsoft replaces those products free, in exchange for information about where the fake product was purchased and for giving the product itself to Microsoft.
Krumm's work on the case of a San Antonio man with ties to a Chinese criminal syndicate exemplifies her role on the anti-piracy team.
Microsoft's first clues were from five customers — three in the U.S., two in Europe — who reported paying up to $200 through online auction sites for what they thought was real Windows 7 or Office software.
Krumm then fed more information from her databases into a mapping technology, which lit up in the San Antonio area. It showed a cluster of activity, including customer reports of fake software, online auctions originating from the area that were taken down, and seizures by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
Krumm and Microsoft anti-piracy forensics experts discovered a tie between those fake Windows 7 software and a criminal syndicate in China.
The mold designs on some of the discs submitted by the duped customers were found to match a strain of counterfeit products tied to the syndicate.
Microsoft sent warning letters to the Texas man, then referred the case to the Bexar County Sheriff's Office in Texas, which raided the man's business and arrested him.
In August 2011, the man was sentenced to eight years of probation and 180 days of house arrest along with community service and a fine.
Among anti-piracy investigators, Krumm is known as "queen of the raid site," said Donal Keating, Microsoft's Dublin-based worldwide senior forensics lead, who often works with Krumm.
Amid the chaos of a raid site, Krumm guides Keating to flesh out details that help create the big picture.
"When you see a raid sheet Zoe's been involved in, you know how much product has been there, what the product was, where the product physically was," Keating said. "You get a really, really good picture of what went on in the raid site. So the result of that is the intelligence is much richer."
It's that love of detail that drew Krumm into the work.
More than 15 years ago, when she was teaching a masters rowing class, several of her students were high-powered women attorneys.
Krumm, who was getting her graduate degree in elementary education at the time, thought she might want to become a lawyer, too.
Turned out, she didn't like all the writing. But she found she had a knack for gathering and organizing data.
Started as contractor
She originally started working for Microsoft as a contractor doing data-entry work for the anti-piracy team.
Soon, she found there was a wealth of intelligence to be gleaned from the data she was entering. Just as important, she realized how that intelligence could be used to support the investigators building the cases.
Her boss, Bonnie MacNaughton, who leads Microsoft's anti-piracy programs in North America, says:
"Zoe has taken on bigger and bigger challenges including her current leadership role in the design and development of innovative intelligence systems which allow us to connect the dots between different pieces of evidence and cases."
These days, Krumm is studying for her master's in business administration at Seattle University. She wants to get a bigger-picture understanding of how a large multinational company operates and how they set up their strategies.
What she's learned is that "companies are always evolving, always doing things in new ways."
So it is with piracy and fighting the battling of it.
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @janettu.