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Vista product activation unpicked

Broken by brute force and swiped from shelves

Mobile application security vulnerability report

The activation method used by Microsoft to protect Vista from piracy is under attack on multiple fronts.

According to Keznews, activation codes for Vista can be obtained by brute force using key generator software that randomly tries a variety of 25-digit codes until it finds one that works. With a powerful enough PC, users might be able to cycle through 20,000 different keys an hour until the software finds a key that fits. The key generator itself is a modified version of the original software license manager script file, according to reports.

A disclaimer on Keznews from the program's developers urges people not to sell the keys they generate. These keys might be one that a genuine customer is already using, which might cause Windows Genuine Advantage to refuse the cracked keys.

The greater broadband speeds available since the launch of Windows XP have made it a straightforward proposition to download illicit copies of Vista. Rather than go through the tedious business of running something like the key generation, we've heard from Register readers that some people on either side of the Atlantic have surreptitiously used the activation codes printed on boxed copies of Vista to get their system up and running. Use of cameraphones to capture these codes makes the process a breeze, we're told.

We don't know how widespread this practice is, but it creates a headache for Microsoft, as pirates activate the codes before they are used by legitimate users. ®

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