Pirates aren’t walking the plank off the good ship Seven, but are instead walking the plank right onto it – and straight into the captain’s quarters!
Steve Ballmer must be throwing some deck chairs all over the place right now, with this news coming just when Microsoft had finally pushed through a deal with Yahoo after all.
According to Ars Technica (where you can read more specific detail) a Lenovo OEM edition of Windows 7 leaked, and hackers managed to extract a special OEM activation key and licence – but only for Windows 7 Ultimate at this stage.
The OEM key can self-activate without needing to go online and phone home to Microsoft first, effectively bypassing the regular activation retail users are put through, so it looks like Microsoft’s own activation exemptions for its OEM customers has now come to bite it in the butt.
Apparently, existing copies of Windows 7 RTM can be easily modified so Windows believes it is now an OEM edition of Win 7, which can then be offline activated, and a horde of Win 7 activation cracks are expected to be widely available online to anyone that wants it.
This could mean that millions, if not tens of millions or more copies of Windows 7 could be activated and in use by pirates around the world well before the October 22 “general availability” date.
Pirate software shops in Asia will soon have activate-able copies of Win 7 on sale soon, too – replacing the release candidate and other pirated versions they were already selling.
Seeing as a master OEM key has been breached, it looks like it will be a much tougher problem for Microsoft to eliminate, but just as the hackers can find a way, so will Microsoft.
The number of “fake” activator programs and Win 7 torrent files claiming to have the activation crack installed will likely now rise even further into the stratosphere, giving cyber criminals ever more chances to trap the unwary with malware.
The only real way to be “safe”?
Buy Windows 7 at retail or on a brand new computer when it is officially available to the public from Oct 22 onwards, and stay away from pirate software in general, a lot of which is well known to be a malware, virus or Trojan laden trap.
There’s also the option of switching to Linux, or a Mac, what with Snow Leopard on the way, and new versions of ever better free Linux distros appearing every few months.
You could even stay with what you already have, with lots of XP users saying they’ve no intention of changing their OS just yet.
Microsoft has warned against downloading Windows 7 illegally from pirate sites, noting the malware risk, but also says it’s pleased to see such interest in installing Windows 7 from the public.
Clearly, Microsoft hopes to see that interest transferred into sales, instead of free and illegal downloads that cut into Microsoft’s bottom line, so we’ll just have to wait and see what real effect this early activation discovery brings to Microsoft’s results next time around.
Until then, the cat and mouse game between Microsoft and the pirates has seen the pirates win the first round much faster than expected, with the ball now firmly back in Microsoft’s court.