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Windows Genuine Advantage cries wolf (again)

Aargh! Server outage turns customers into pirates

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Over the weekend, thousands of Microsoft customers who tried to download patches or updates for Windows were falsely accused of running a pirated version of Windows.

Microsoft blamed the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) glitch on server problems, since fixed. WGA is an anti-piracy program which determines the validity of Windows software running on customer PCs - and phone backs to Redmond with the results.

Between Friday and Saturday, Windows users who tried to update their system were greeted by WGA declaring them liars and cheats.

Microsoft is investigating the cause of the error.

Despite the internet uproar over the weekend, according to Microsoft's WGA blog, fewer than 12,000 systems were affected worldwide. Microsoft denies reports that the error caused some computers to gut itself of features such as DirectX.

From the WGA blog:

This validation failure did not result in the 30-day grace period starting and no one went into reduced functionality mode as a result. The experience of a system that failed validation in this instance was that some features intended for use only on genuine systems were temporarily unavailable. Those features were Windows Aero, ReadyBoost, Windows Defender (which still scanned and identified all threats, but cleaned only the severe ones), and Windows Update (only optional updates were unavailable; security and other critical updates remained available).

Customers who received an incorrect validation response can fix their system by revalidating at the WGA site. Microsoft recommends the affected systems are rebooted to restore the system to normal.

The SNAFU mirrors a similar server outage last year which flagged genuine copies of Windows as pirated booty.

False positives, in addition to privacy concerns have fueled debate on just how advantageous WGA is to legitimate customers.

It is telling to us that Microsoft must constantly remind its customers that it hasn't added WGA because of spite:

"WGA's goal is not to punish the people who purchase these programs; they, of all people are the most victimized," wrote Alex Kochis, WGA senior product manager in the WGA blog. "The goal is to give these people a tool to let them know they have been victimized and can do something about it." ®

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