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Keygen routine producing valid WinXP product keys?

Sounds like bad news for Microsoft's WPA...

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A cracking system for Windows Product Activation publicised this week may present Microsoft's anti-piracy system with its most serious problem yet. It takes the form of a key generator which appears to produce valid activation keys for Microsoft products, and if this really is the case, it is difficult to see how Microsoft can differentiate between keys issued with legal product, and keys generated by the keymaker.

It sounds too good (well, depending on your outlook) to be true, but while forum operators are in general managing to keep a lid on people posting locations for the program, it seems clear from discussion threads on several of them that it is indeed producing keys that work. The keymaker first gained widespread publicity earlier this week at Heise.de, which tested it and says it generated 25 keys for XP Home overnight. Heise's report, in German, can be found here, while Neowin.net has a translation of the important bits here.

Judging by the time taken to generate keys there's a significant amount of crunching going on, but on the other hand as this is precisely the sort of thing Microsoft must have anticipated when it devised WPA, it's not nearly as much crunching as you'd expect. If one morally questionable teenie can successfully generate one operational key by leaving their home PC running overnight, then Redmond has quite clearly blundered. 25 in a night counts as blundering big-time.

Prior to the keymaker WPA had been cracked, although that rather depended on what you meant by the word; as Microsoft has heroically argued, being pirated wholesale and being cracked are in fact two different things. Philosphically, anyway. Patched versions swiftly became available when the software went gold, but essentially these can be termed unauthorised distributions/variants of the software, and although it means people can get it for free, Microsoft has the capability of zapping their installations as a side-effect of service packs and similar. As yet the company doesn't seem to have used Windows Update to deactivate warez systems, but it's possible.

The other major circumvention of WPA is via leaked keys for corporate versions, which are unlocked simply by entering the key, rather than it being necessary to activate over the Internet or by phone. Again, Microsoft can invalidate these keys at service pack time, and it has done so at least once in the past.

So the question as regards keymaking software is whether or not Microsoft has any way to differentiate between generated keys and the ones it has issued itself. If not, this generation of WPA is now surely toast. ®

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