Microsoft announced Feb. 11 that it will update Windows 7 with the ability to detect more than 70 activation exploits used by software pirates to beat Windows' activation technology.
The update is for Windows Activation Technologies (WAT), formerly known as Windows Genuine Advantage, and is slated to be posted to Microsoft's download site next week. According to the company, it will be offered as a voluntary upgrade through Windows Update as well later on this month.
"The 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," blogged Joe Williams, general manager of Worldwide Genuine Windows at Microsoft.
The update is designed to run on all editions of Windows 7, although the initial target will be the Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise editions. It will be available online here Feb. 16, and then on Microsoft Download Center the following day.
"Once installed, the Update protects customers by identifying known activation exploits that may affect their PC experience," Williams blogged. "If any activation exploits are found, Windows will alert the customer and offer options for resolving the issue-in many cases, with just a few clicks. Machines running genuine Windows 7 software with no activation exploits will see nothing-the update runs quietly in the background protecting your system."
If a user is running a pirated copy of Windows 7, however, the user will see informational dialog boxes with options for the customer to either get more information or acquire genuine Windows. The desktop wallpaper will be switched to a plain desktop, with all of the customer's desktop icons, gadgets or pinned applications in place. Periodic reminders and a persistent desktop watermark will remain as another signal to the user, Williams explained.
"The update will run periodic validations [initially every 90 days]," he continued. "During validation, Windows will download the latest -signatures' that are used to identify new activation exploits-much like an anti-virus service. When tampering, disabling or missing licensing files are discovered, the WAT Update runs a check and repair weekly to ensure that the licensing files are properly repaired."
According to a report by the Business Software Alliance in May, a fifth of software in the United States is pirated, costing $9.1 billion in losses to the software market. There have also been attempts to use Trojans hidden within pirated software to infect users. Prior to the release of Windows 7, attackers did exactly that, lacing pirated copies of the operating system with malware and circulating them on BitTorrent sites.
"Searching for, downloading or installing activation exploits or counterfeit software on the Internet is risky. ... Buyers of new PCs should always check for the Certificate of Authenticity [COA] to verify that the PC they are purchasing contains only genuine Windows," Williams stated.