Vista Users To Face New Piracy Tests

Microsoft seeks to tighten controls on license keys; IT execs see added work

Microsoft Corp. last week confirmed that it is overhauling its antipiracy technology for Windows Vista in an effort to plug a potential software license security hole among corporate users and avoid the problems associated with Windows XP’s antipiracy tools.

But the new technology will impose more stringent penalties on users who fail to validate their copies of Vista. And it likely will force many companies to tighten up the proc¿esses they have for installing Windows on PCs and tracking the use of their software license keys. That prospect, and the possibility that valid users could be deemed illegitimate, didn’t sit well with some IT managers.

Frank Yawn, an IT manager at Time Warner Cable Inc.’s office in Greensboro, N.C., said he expects the new Software Protection Platform technology that Microsoft is building into Windows Vista to “add another layer of complexity” to his work.

“I personally feel the security of our keys is pretty adequate,” Yawn said. “If I can’t trust my employees with the key and a Windows CD, then maybe I need to re-evaluate my employees.”

“While I fully understand the need for Microsoft to protect its licensing, I have concerns when more and more restrictions are placed on enterprise customers,” said Steven Bastille, IT director for server and desktop systems at Station Casinos Inc.

The Las Vegas-based casino chain runs more than 3,000 Windows PCs and servers, many in a high-availability environment. Bastille worries that increased oversight of software license keys by Microsoft through the SPP technology will increase the chances that legitimate users will be asked to revalidate their Windows installations — a scenario he said he could ill afford.

“If there’s an error somewhere outside of my control, and all 3,000-plus machines are suddenly not working, I could end up looking for a new job,” Bastille said.

Currently, companies that buy large amounts of software from Microsoft under volume licenses are issued a single key for each application or operating system, no matter how many machines the products will be installed on. Many store their license keys as unencrypted strings in plain-text files, making the keys vulnerable to theft.

Stolen keys often end up on the Internet, where they can be reused millions of times by software pirates and unwitting users. In July, Microsoft said that of the 300 million copies of Windows XP that had been scanned by its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) tool at that point, 48 million had failed the piracy test because they were installed with stolen volume-license keys.

Starting with Windows Vista and Windows Server Longhorn, which is expected to be released next year, companies will have to choose one of two options under the SPP program. The first, primarily for smaller customers, is to be validated via the Internet by receiving a Multiple Activation Key from a Microsoft server during installation.

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