Windows releases new Windows Activation Tool

In the coming days, we’ll be deploying a new update for Windows Activation Technologies, the set of built-in activation and validation components built into Windows 7. Called Windows Activation Technologies Update for Windows 7, this update will detect more than 70 known and potentially dangerous activation exploits. Activation exploits are sometimes called “hacks”, and attempt to bypass or compromise Windows’ activation technologies. This new update is further evidence of Microsoft’s commitment to keeping customers and partners secure. 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.

So, what are the risks of activation exploits? Searching for, downloading, or installing activation exploits or counterfeit software on the Internet is risky, because sites that advertise these pirated products often contain malware, viruses, and Trojans, which are found bundled with or directly built into the activation exploit or counterfeit software. A study by research firm IDC, The Risks of Obtaining and Using Pirated Software, shows that one in four Web sites offering counterfeit software attempted to install unwanted or malicious code upon downloading. And this rate is rising. Media Surveillance, an anti-piracy solutions company based in Germany, recently downloaded more than five hundred pirated copies of Windows 7 (and Windows activation exploits) and found that 32% contained malicious code. These are very disturbing figures – especially when considering that resellers may be using these downloads to claim that the PCs they sell include genuine Windows. 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. A quick visit to our How to Tell website tells buyers what a genuine COA should look like.

The Update is designed to run on all editions of Windows 7, although we will distribute first to the Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise editions. It will be available online at www.microsoft.com/genuine beginning February 16 and on the Microsoft Download Center beginning February 17. Later this month, the update will also be offered through Windows Update as an ‘Important’ update.

Although the Update will not be directly offered through Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), which is used by enterprise customers to manage the distribution of software updates in their IT environment, a WSUS administrator can import this update into WSUS through the Microsoft Update catalog. I’d like to stress that the Update is voluntary, which means that you can choose not to install it when you see it appear on Windows Update. I also want to stress that installing this update will not jeopardize your privacy; although the update contacts Microsoft’s servers to check for new threats as I outline below, the information we receive from PCs during these checks does not include any personally identifiable information or any other information that Microsoft can use to identify or contact you. This update follows the same stringent and secure set of privacy principles and policies as other downloads. The update can also be uninstalled at any time.

How does it work? Once installed, the Update protects customers by identifying known activation exploits that may affect their PC experience. 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 Windows 7 is non-genuine, the notifications built into Windows 7 will inform the customer that Windows is not genuine by displaying 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 (all of the customer’s desktop icons, gadgets, or pinned applications stay in place). Periodic reminders and a persistent desktop watermark act as further alerts to the customer.

It is important to know that the customer will see no reduced functionality in their copy of Windows – a customer’s applications work as expected, and access to personal information is unchanged. The Update will run periodic validations (initially every 90 days). 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. 

Joe Williams
General Manager, Genuine Windows

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