A Kiwi tech elsewhere

The WGA team and I can rest easy - It is uncool to run pirated Windows Vista again.

By Peter Smith, in , posted: 23-Feb-2008 20:45

I am a keen and fully legal Windows Vista user, and I liked the measures that Microsoft had taken to protect Windows Vista from piracy. I'm a software guy by trade, I know it takes a huge amount of effort to write good software, and so it pleases me when I choose to spend money on a good product and that product is well protected from piracy by the masses.

I've been a keen reader of the Windows Genuine Advantage Team blog for a long while now, and while it is not frequently updated, when it is there is usually a good story to tell. It is usually about the latest exploit that can be used to pirate Vista or XP and how the team dissect the exploits and work out ways to detect and close the holes.

A real hitch in the story came up last year, when for the first time I saw a post on the WGA about a particular attack that had been discovered, and the team very politically didn't say they could stop it, which was a first. The attack, known as the OEM BIOS exploit, tricked Vista into thinking it was running on an OEM system that didn't require activation. The reason that the attack wasn't easily stopped was because Microsoft intended it to work this way, and some variants of this attack actually reflashed the BIOS rather than relying entirely on a software solution.

I was a little disappointed because all of a sudden people were pirating something I had paid good money for. I didn't mind so much with XP because every man and his dog was running pirated versions of that, but with Vista, I though the worm had turned so to speak.

I was even more disappointed when a few months later it appeared Microsoft were giving up and in fact were going to allow pirated systems to keep on working, rather than disabling major functionality  in detected flawed systems. The reason was that most users didn't know their systems were non genuine, and blamed Microsoft when they stopped working, rather than their supplier.

So this morning I was very happy to read the latest post on the WGA blog where Microsoft are going to annoy pirates again, this time in a more subtle fashion. Not only is a WGA rollout going to happen very soon which disables the OEM BIOS exploit, Microsoft are going to get more proactive about making you notice that.

If you are running a detected non genuine system, every hour Vista is going to remove your desktop wallpaper and turn your desktop black. It will then display an 'Activate Windows Now' balloon. Why is this going to work? Because those guys who like to think they're cool and pirate windows like to have sexy looking systems all the time, with the latest wallpapers from deviantArt etc.. Nothing is going to be worse than having your system go black every hour, especially when you are demoing your cool system to mates. I really like the psychology behind this one.

Windows looking uncool :

Windows Vista looking uncool

If it was me, I would have turned the desktop bright orange, but well done Microsoft for finding the right solution here.

The Windows Genuine Advantage blog can be found at http://blogs.msdn.com/wga/default.aspx

Comment by sbiddle, on 24-Feb-2008 09:08

I agree that MS have to do something but to be honest it's a battle MS cannot win. Apple attempting to stop iPhone cracking is proof that thousands of people around the world working on a single project with skills that in many cases are greater than the developers who build the products will always win. Developing software that cannot be cracked is a near impossible feat without causing such annoyances to the end user that they're unwilling to use it.

Comment by barf, on 24-Feb-2008 09:15


Comment by paradoxsm, on 24-Feb-2008 12:51

I like the black look! My XP looks exactly like that, black background with that awesome Noir theme.
My XP is full legitimate but has an activation crack applied to avoid hardware change "activation" hassles.

I love this little "piss you off" attempt though, Quite imaginitave.

When I have designed software (I can code but need to brush up) I have always put in random timebombs which do funny stuff, Flying jolly roger screensavers, random crashes, playing "Arr mateys, these softwares a PIratE!" randomly.

Comment by inane, on 25-Feb-2008 09:33

I have to say,
I've never run a pirated version of windows, and never will (I've had many MSDN subscriptions which I will admit makes life easier to ensure your all filled up with licenced goodness )

but to be honest, I have had so much trouble with WGA and the anti-piracy measures that microsoft have introduced incorrectly identifying my version as non-genuine that was what lead me to try out linux in the first place.

(to be fair Microsoft were always very proactive about fixing it whenever I reported the fault and were super-helpful trying to fix it, once i got past checklist-level support)

so whilst I applaud the efforts at trying to discourage piracy, I wonder how many of the pirates vs. how many legitimate users will be affected.

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Peter Smith