Why pirated Vista has Microsoft champing at BitTorrent

Microsoft is struggling to tackle the threat coming from P2P service BitTorrent

As Microsoft gets ready to launch Windows Vista and Office 2007 to consumers, it claims a formidable new foe it lacked at its last major consumer software launch five years ago: the popular filesharing network known as BitTorrent.

This third-generation peer-to-peer (P2P) service, already used by tens of millions of Internet users to swap digital music and movies for free, is becoming a popular mechanism for those looking to obtain pirated software.

"Any software that is commercially available is available on BitTorrent," according to Mark Ishikawa, CEO of BayTSP, an antipiracy consulting firm.

Piracy and prerelease

Or in the case of Vista and Office 2007, before they were commercially available. Both products were released to corporations almost two months ago, but won't be officially launched to consumers until Jan. 29.

But as early as mid-November, "cracked" copies of both products were available via BitTorrent. As of mid-January, more than 100 individual copies of Office 2007 and more than 350 individual copies of Windows Vista were available on the service, according to BigChampagne, a Los Angeles-based online media-tracking firm.

The pirates that cracked early copies of Vista all sidestepped Microsoft's latest antipiracy technology, the Software Protection Platform. SPP is supposed to shut down any copy of Vista not registered to Microsoft over the Internet with a legitimate, paid-up license key within the first 30 days.

Microsoft has quietly admitted that it has already found three different workarounds to SPP. It says it can defeat one, dubbed the Frankenbuild because of its cobbling together of code from beta and final versions of Vista. It hasn't yet announced success against several other cracks, including one seemingly inspired by Y2k, which allows Vista to run unactivated until the year 2099 rather than for just 30 days.

"Pirates have unlimited time and resources," BayTSP's Ishikawa says. "You can't build an encryption that can't be broken."

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Eric Lai

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