‘Universal’ key claimed to disable MS Office XP security

But weren't they going to stop putting back doors in the code?

Microsoft's vaunted Product Activation protection technology may not have been fully implemented in Office XP after all. Product keys claimed to be "universal" have been circulating on the Web for some weeks now, and a WinXP beta tester's newsgroup posting forwarded to The Register suggests that use of one of these keys circumvents the activation process.

It is not at the moment possible to verify this completely. Warez copies of code claimed to Office XP "final" reportedly run without requiring activation if one of the keys is used, but those keys can't be said to be definitely universal until such time as they can be tested on production copies of Office XP sold at retail.

The report from the beta newsgroup does however provide some level of verification of the matter. The tester says he installed the RC1/CPP (Release Candidate 1/Corporate Preview Program) version of OXP Word and Excel using one of the "universal" keys. Clicking on activate product after this produced the message: "this product has already been activated."

He speculates that the key may be an Enterprise Edition one, and adds that "if MS does the same for Windows XP then the Internet will have that info once it goes RTM just like what happened to Office XP."

Indeedy-doody. It may turn out to be the case that the retail code won't be as receptive to the magic number as the warez code and RC1. But both of these are pretty functional; the former is available for free, and RC1 you can get cheap from Microsoft in the CPP edition. The CPP has a timeout, but if there isn't also a timecrack available already, there probably will be one soon.

We don't, naturally condone either of these routes to cheap/free OXP, but that's not really the point. Microsoft's stated intent with Product Activation was to get a lid on "casual copying," and the only way this could work (even a little bit) would have been for there to be no universal keys like the ones that have traditionally circulated for Microsoft software. At the moment, it looks like those keys exist, and if they turn out to work for all editions of OXP, they're going to be very popular, and Microsoft will have got precisely nowhere in its campaign against casual copying. We'll try a couple of keys on the retail edition just as soon as we can buy one.

Even if there turns out to be a difference between the security on the retail and corporate editions (as Microsoft has stated will be the case with WinXP), its effectiveness will still be doubtful. The corporate editions of WinXP are intended to require just one activation process, after which the techies can install as many copies as they like (after paying the licences, natch) without having to activate each time. That means it'll be the corporate editions that go into pirate and warez channels.

Obviously it's too early to say whether or not there'll be a universal key for RTM WinXP, but the signs are looking ominous. There are several such keys for the beta code (these have been well publicised, but have carried on working through several builds of the beta). The WinXP beta keys do not themselves disable product activation, but so far this seems to have been pretty simple to get around. ®

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