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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 23:52 GMT
Pirates target Windows XP
Pirated Microsoft software found in Malaysia
Pirated versions of Windows XP are already available
Attempts to make Windows XP pirate-proof seem to be failing.

Only days after Microsoft launched the new version of its Windows operating system, pirate versions of the software are circulating online and in Asian street markets.

Copies of the software are appearing on chat channels on the internet, or can be downloaded from newsgroups and websites.

Also widely available are programs that get around the key anti-piracy mechanism built into XP.

Ease of abuse

Windows XP introduces product activation to operating systems which forces users to contact Microsoft if they want to use the software for more than a few days.

When first installed on a computer, Windows XP generates a code related to the configuration of the hardware inside that machine.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates poses with a copy of Windows XP
The US launch of XP was held in New York
This code is passed to Microsoft which returns another identifier that lets the software be used indefinitely on that computer.

By tying copies of Windows XP to particular machines, Microsoft hopes to stop the casual copying of its software by consumers and small businesses who use a single copy on more than one PC.

Versions of Windows XP intended for Microsoft's biggest customers, who will put the software on hundreds or thousands of machines, do not have to be activated. Instead they have a "corporate key" built in.

Pirates have found and extracted this key by making a byte-by-byte comparison of retail and corporate versions of XP.

Some websites are offering copies of this corporate version, or copies of the key to those that do not want to pay to put the software on more than one PC.

Computer crack

Only those with high-speed net connections are likely to download the pirate version as it is 600 MB in size. Once downloaded however the software can easily be burned on to a CD and sold.

In Malaysia, copies of Windows XP are being sold in street markets. Some copies are on sale for as little as 10 ringit (1.83).

Other parts of the net are offering other ways to circumvent the product activation system. Some hackers have developed small programs, or utilities, that disable the anti-piracy measures.

One convinces Windows XP that it is always the first day it is being used so the trial period never runs out. Another claims to completely disable the activation system.

The cracking programs may not prove popular with consumers because they involve editing the Windows registry - something novices are unlikely to attempt.

British security company BitArts said it found copies of many of the cracking utilities on file-sharing systems such as Morpheus.

Microsoft said that the product activation system in Windows XP was never likely to eliminate piracy, but it had to stop all but the most determined pirates getting hold of free software.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ania Lichtarowcz
says that technical knowledge is required to for the piracy to be successful
See also:

05 Oct 01 | Business
Korean firms seek ban on Windows XP
19 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Microsoft 'experiments' with XP
20 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Piracy problems stain Windows XP
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