Microsoft Plans Windows 7 Anti-Piracy Update

Happy Valentine’s Day. By the way, did you know your copy of Windows 7 is counterfeit?

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is sending a belated valentine to Windows 7 users next week — an update to its Windows Activation Technologies (WAT).

“This update will detect more than 70 known and potentially dangerous activation exploits,” Joe Williams, general manager of Microsoft’s Genuine Windows program, said in a post on the Genuine Windows blog Thursday.

According to Microsoft, users running pirated copies of its software are at much higher risk of encountering all kinds of malware attacks — malicious code embedded with the license key breaking software — than users with legitimate copies. That’s dangerous for users, and it damages the software maker through lost revenues.

The idea of WAT is to simply repeatedly notify users when the Microsoft software that they’re running has been pirated — and not in the strong arm way that Microsoft did in earlier times.

The update, which users will be able to begin downloading on Tuesday, is voluntary. It will initially be available via the Genuine Microsoft Software page on Microsoft’s site, followed the next day by the company’s downloads page.

Later in the month, the update, prosaically named the Windows Activation Technologies Update for Windows 7, will be offered to users by Microsoft’s Windows Update site. Unlike similar earlier updates, however — when WAT was still known as Window Genuine Advantage, or WGA — this update will be categorized as “important” rather than “critical.” That is it will not force or trick users into downloading it.

The end of WGA-style harassment?

That’s a significant change from WGA’s heyday.

In fact, WGA’s notifications that a copy of Windows was counterfeit were not only annoying, but would result in a PC that was running a suspect copy of Windows being all but shut down — putting it into what Microsoft called “reduced functionality” mode.

WGA’s annoying behaviors, such as “checking in” with Microsoft frequently, and sometimes yielding false positives, resulted in a user lawsuit against the company in 2006. That lawsuit was dismissed just a week ago.

“The [WAT] update will determine whether Windows 7 installed on a PC is genuine and will better protect customers’ PCs by making sure that the integrity of key licensing components remains intact,” Williams’ blog post said. If not, instead of shutting down Windows, it will inform and remind the user that the software is not “genuine.”

It will do so by turning off the wallpaper on the desktop, and by periodically popping up notices informing the user that the PC is not running a legitimate copy of Windows 7 and explaining how to get a valid copy. One other thing, WAT still phones home every 90 days to pass along data about any illicit copies, though Microsoft claims it will not collect any personally identifiable information.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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