Needle Exchange

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-05-13 Print this article Print

Lets assume—for the sake of argument and because its what is claimed for SP2—that it greatly improves the security of Windows XP systems. The more insecure systems out there, the more attacks and threats there are against honest users.

For insights on security coverage around the Web, check out Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.
Its the computer equivalent of a public health issue. I think of it as a bit like needle exchange. You dont want to encourage drug use, but its better that junkies use clean needles than dirty ones. (I think neither software pirates nor Microsoft will like my analogy.)

But needle-exchange programs are, of course, extremely controversial because of the moral hazard they create. The fact is, they do encourage intravenous drug use by removing one of the risks people might fear about using intravenous drugs. And by the same token, providing patches and upgrades for software pirates encourages software piracy. There certainly are reasons why Microsoft might change this policy, but there are better reasons not to do so.

Some pirates will comfort themselves by pointing out that there are ways to get around this if youre resourceful and dishonest enough. Basically, from what Ive heard, there are tools to change the product ID on a live system. Before you send me a note using this point as a criticism of Microsofts policy, Im not impressed, and I dont think there are particularly large numbers of people doing that. I do think a lot of people are deterred from piracy by impediments such as those on Windows Update, and most people wouldnt think to steal software to begin with. Take a look inside, folks.

Security is a big issue, but its not the only one. Turning a blind eye toward piracy by opening the door to Windows Update would set a terrible precedent. Well make do without it.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms Security Center at for security news, views and analysis. Be sure to add our security news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page:   More from Larry Seltzer

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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