"All IP protection technologies will be cracked at some point; its just a matter of time." Thats what Allen Nieman, product manager of Activation at Microsoft Corp., told BetaNews in an interview last May. But this week Niemans concession became a reality as a key generator capable of creating unique, valid installation and activation codes for Windows XP came to light.
While patches and cracks for Windows Product Activation have existed since the release of Windows XP, would-be pirates were forced to physically modify system files and risk invalidating their operating system with updates. If it desires, Microsoft has the ability to instantly void such cracks or leaked keys with service packs or security patches.
The key maker, apparently released by a group calling itself "The Blue List," poses a more significant problem to the Redmond, Wash., company--discerning legitimate keys from those generated by users.
Microsoft has always been quick to point out that pirated copies of Windows are ineligible for technical support and warranty protections. However, if the created keys are indeed genuine, a user running a shared or downloaded copy of Windows will appear no different to Microsoft support personnel than one who purchased a copy in the store.
"The only way Microsoft would know its a generated serial in this case is if customer service asks for the x0- number on the CD, and that is highly unlikely," an informed source told BetaNews.
Most surprising is the relatively little work it takes to compute a valid key. Tests by BetaNews resulted in two keys and 29 failures in just under 7 minutes of heavy CPU usage. As the included information states, "not every random cd-key [can] be made valid, so it usually needs more than one try to compute a valid cd-key." Both keys were each able to correctly activate a retail copy of Windows XP in the test lab.
But in the eyes of Microsoft, WPA may have already far exceeded the companys expectations. "The measure of success is not completely stopping software piracy, which is probably an unattainable goal. Success is more likely measured in increased awareness of the terms of the license agreement and increased license compliance," said Nieman last summer. With WPA one of the hottest topics of 2001 and Windows XP outselling its predecessors, there is no doubt Microsoft has done just that.
Microsoft was unavailable for comment at press time.