Hackers outwit Windows 7 activation

Software lets pirates thwart Microsoft's antipiracy technology in new OS

Hackers have figured out how to sidestep Windows 7's activation process, continuing a long-running battle with Microsoft, which has blocked such tactics in the past.

According to an article published more than a week ago on My Digital Life , hackers have devised a pair of methods that circumvent the new operating system's product activation, a key component of Microsoft's antipiracy technologies.

Microsoft said it knew about the hacks and was looking into ways to block them. "We're aware of this workaround and are already working to address it," a company spokeswoman said today.

Two utilities, called "RemoveWAT" and "Chew-WGA," remove the activation technologies or prevent them from running, said My Digital Life. Both hacking tools trick Windows 7 into reporting that it has been properly activated, preventing the nagging on-screen displays and other visual cues from appearing that Microsoft has built into its software to mark counterfeit software.

With Windows 7, Microsoft dropped the "Windows Genuine Advantage" (WGA) name for its integrated antipiracy software, and replaced it with "Windows Activation Technologies" (WAT). The end result on users' screens, however, remained similar to what Vista displayed. The most evident change to Windows 7 was the discarding of a delay during log-in on a machine with an inactivated copy of Windows. Under Vista's scheme, users had to wait 15 seconds before clicking the "Activate Later" button to proceed to the desktop. In Windows 7, users can click that button immediately.

Microsoft made dramatic changes to Vista's illegitimate software warnings nearly two years ago, then followed those with nearly identical modifications to the older Windows XP. In both operating systems, the company dumped the reduced functionality mode that essentially made the machine unusable, and instead boosted the number of on-screen messages and planted a black background on the desktop.

Microsoft has blocked anti-activation hacks in the past, using Windows Update to push changes to users. In early 2008, for example, the company stymied a pair of activation cracks with just such an update, then rolled the crack detection code into Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) a month later. It issued another update in February 2009 to block another crack that affected Vista Ultimate.

The post on My Digital Life acknowledged that Microsoft might take the same tack with the Windows 7 workarounds. "As [the] cracks based on removal of activation component involves patching, changes and modification to many system files, it's likely to be easily detected and nullified by Microsoft, especially in [the] next WGA update or Service Pack 1 (SP1) for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2," My Digital Life reported.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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