Microsoft's XP Copy-protection not Foolproof

A controversial anti-piracy technology built into Microsoft Corp.'s

Windows XP operating system has been cracked, a U.K. security firm has

reported.

Within hours of the operating system's glitzy launch on Oct. 25,

malicious coders in Asia began distributing a software program over the

Internet that allows users to bypass Microsoft's Product Activation

technology, which is designed to prevent users from installing a copy

of Windows XP on multiple computers, according to BitArts Lab, a U.K.

based digital rights management firm.

The Microsoft technology requires all users to "activate" their copy of

Windows XP soon after they purchase it. This process "locks" a product

identification number assigned to each copy of Windows XP to the PC it

is installed on, and then issues an activation code based on that

configuration.

When the activation process is complete, a user registers the

activation code with Microsoft by phone or over the Internet, which

stores it in a database. The company can then scan the database for

conflicting activation codes to identify software that has been

installed on more than one machine.

But some users have managed to get around that process with a program

authored recently by computer hackers which allows them to strip the

activation technology from the software, BitArts said in a statement

issued Friday.

Contacted Tuesday, Microsoft said it was aware of the apparent code

break, adding that it was not surprised that crackers were at work

looking for ways to get around its technology.

"Product Activation isn't a silver-bullet solution, it's just one of

many measures that Microsoft has taken to protect its intellectual

property," a Microsoft spokeswoman said Tuesday. "It was never assumed

that the technology wouldn't be circumvented."

Microsoft has touted Product Activation as one of its key efforts to

protect against "casual copying," which is when a user buys one copy of

Windows and installs it on multiple computers. This type of software

piracy contributed to about half of the estimated US$12 billion lost

last year to the sale of counterfeit software, industry groups have

said.

Microsoft now admits that Product Activation was never likely to root

out more sophisticated software pirates, but rather to cut down on the

casual sharing of its software by individual users, according to the

spokeswoman.

Microsoft Chief Financial Officer John Connors, speaking at a press

conference in San Francisco after the operating system was launched,

said Product Activation was never intended to be unbreakable, but that

it would help protect the company from losing out on a chunk of its

revenue.

"Our intellectual property, similar to the music and motion picture

industries, should be paid for," Connors said at the time. "(Product

Activation) makes people aware of what our licensing plan has always

been."

Windows XP is the first software release from Microsoft to broadly use

Product Activation, though it was successfully tested in earlier

products from the company in Europe and Asia.

During beta testing of the operating system, the anti-piracy technology

came under fire from critics. They charged Microsoft with undermining

the privacy of users by collecting information about their computers,

and said the technology made it difficult for them to exchange

components in their PCs after they had installed the operating system.

Microsoft made changes to the technology in order to assuage those

concerns.

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