Vista SP1 Still Pirate Friendly, Sort Of

Vista SP1 Still Pirate Friendly, Sort Of

During the development of Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista, Microsoft representatives had stated on numerous occasions that the company planned to plug a number of holes in the OS to prevent pirates from circumventing the activation process or defeating the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) anti-piracy mechanism.  According to Adrian Kingsley-Hughes’ blog at ZD-Net, however, even with SP1 installed, circumventing Windows activation is still quite easy.

“First off, the hack.  The hack in question is another OEM BIOS hack but packaged under the name of Vista Loader.  This hack is similar to the Paradox OEM BIOS.  The Paradox hack was the most commonly used Vista activation hack (which is why Microsoft pulled the plug on it) but this one seems to have been quite popular, so I’m not sure why Microsoft didn’t pull the plug on this one too.  Since other outlets have now named this hack as working on Vista SP1 I don’t have any problem with naming it here.”

Although I haven’t experimented with it, the “Vista Loader” Adrian mentions here - and a few other early OEM BIOS hacks - alter the MBR / Bootloader to trick Vista into thinking a system has the necessary SLIC table in its BIOS.  Just trying to install any of these hacks could potentially destroy the MBR and render a machine unbootable, which isn’t necessarily a problem for pirates.  However, for Microsoft, altering the MBR to disable these hacks represents a potential support nightmare.  Imagine the number of support calls Microsoft would have to answer from unassuming users whose machines were no longer bootable after installing SP1.  Technically, MS may not even be able to verify if the copy of Vista is genuine or not if the machine won’t boot, which could cause even more support issues.  And support issues = huge expenses.

Personally, I think MS will try to plug all of the holes it can, as long as the measures minimize the risk of hosing a user’s system.  And messing with the MBR is risky.

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Just trying to install any of these hacks could potentially destroy the MBR and render a machine unbootable, which isn’t necessarily a problem for pirates.

There in lies the problem for proprietary software vendors. They're at a huge disadvantage because once their software has been sold and installed locally on someone's machine, that person can do whatever the heck they want with it. As you just said - pirates don't mind inconveniencing themselves by accidentally effing up the MBR a few times if it means that they'll eventually be free to re-use that software on other PC's they have lying around once they get it right.

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And therein lies the rub. :)

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