Windows 7 anti-piracy steps already under threat

November 18, 2008

Windows 7 anti-piracy steps already under threat Windows 7 won’t be released until next year at the earliest, but that hasn’t stopped would-be pirates exploring ways to get around measures designed to stop people using illegal copies. The interest has been sparked by the first distribution of physical copies of the system to people outside of Microsoft.

As my colleague Dave Parrack reported, delegates at a Microsoft conference at the end of October got their hands on the snazzily-titled ‘Windows 7 Ultimate pre-Beta Build 6801’. As was perhaps inevitable, copies of the software found their way to torrent download sites within a day. Even though ‘pre-Beta’ clearly labels the software as incomplete, it’s been a popular download: as I write this article more than two weeks later, one copy was being shared by more than a thousand users.

Not everyone who downloaded the system was content to just try it out. One site has already found a way to bypass a security system which stopped users accessing incomplete features. It’s offering a tool named ‘Blue Badge’ that allows users to pose as a full-time Microsoft employee and access the entire disc. The unlocked features include touch-based panning and gesture recognition through an input device such as a touchpad or graphics tablet. There’s also an option to run a slideshow as your desktop background.

The copy of Windows 7 handed out to delegates also came with a built-in time limit: as with Vista, some functions are disabled if you don’t activate it within a certain period. With these demo copies it appears there’s no option to activate the software as Microsoft doesn’t intend anyone to actually use it permanently.

However, some ‘enthusiasts’ have already figured a way to get around this restriction by fooling Windows 7 into thinking it has been legitimately activated. That’s of no immediate practical benefit as it simply allows people to continue using an incomplete system which will be outdated within a couple of months when the Beta edition comes out; it also appears the copy delegates received will automatically shut down in January anyway.

But while the Blue Badge tool is not a major problem for Microsoft (if people screw up their computer by using features they shouldn’t be accessing, that’s their problem), the activation ‘crack’ could be more serious. If, as believed, the finished product uses the same protection system, the firm will need to study the crack carefully and find a way to beat it before Windows 7 hits the shelves.

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