THE anti-piracy Business Software Alliance raided and shut down a privately owned electronic bulletin board service (BBS) in Singapore last week, heralding the start of a regional crackdown on bulletin boards used to distribute pirated software. The raid is the first time a BBS has been raided in Asia, and follows recent campaigns against BBSs carried out in the United States, Europe and Australia. BSA vice-president Ron Eckstron said the group was investigating several bulletin boards in Hong Kong and Taiwan known to contain large amounts of illegal software. Mr Eckstron would not elaborate on when or even if similar raids might follow investigations, which he said had been in progress for more than six months. The BSA obtained a search and seizure warrant from Singaporean courts and conducted the raid against a board known as Kiasu III, in conjunction with local authorities last Monday. On initial analysis, most of the infringing material found on the board had been copies of Microsoft PC software, Mr Eckstron said. It is not clear what course of action the BSA will take against the 27-year-old system operator of Kiasu III. But if past software infringement cases in Singapore are an indication, the BSA will not only pursue prosecution but demand the maximum penalties allowable under the Singapore law. Mr Eckstron said the BSA did not expect complications in prosecuting, even though the infringing software was found on a BBS, rather than on a copied diskette, as would usually be the case. ''It's complicated only in so much as we have to have a technician testify as to what was on the board,'' Mr Eckstron said. The group is hoping to discover to what extent illegal copies of software had been distributed through the BBS by studying records also seized. Mr Eckstron said the board had been monitored for many months, and an investigator dialed in regularly to establish the system operator's trust - an important requisite in being granted authorised access to the more secure areas of the BBS that might contain the illegal software. The BSA had recruited firms of private investigators throughout the region to establish relationships with various BBSs. ''You have to be on the board for six to 12 months to get into the areas of the board that have the [infringing] software,'' Mr Eckstron said. ''It takes that long to get the trust of the operator.'' A similar mode of operation is being used in Hong Kong. ''We have someone working on the problem here, and it is my understanding that several boards have been targeted,'' Mr Eckstron said. He described Hong Kong - with its high per capita number of PCs, and its computer literate population - as being ''full of computer hackers''. The BSA's worldwide campaign against BBSs has netted more than illegal copies of software. Three services raided in Australia - known as Total Meltdown, Pirate Cove, and Terminal Velocity - were understood to have also contained stolen credit card numbers, and stolen telephone card numbers. The discovery quickly expanded the scope of interest from authorities in Australia. ''There are usually a few boards in each [country] that are notorious, and the ones in Australia are a good example,'' Mr Eckstron said. The material found in the higher-level security areas of some bulletin boards has surprised even the investigators. Mr Eckstron said beta test versions of pre-release software - some still far from being ready for market - were apparently commonplace.