Microsoft’s Software Protection Platform: Protecting Software and Customers from Counterfeiters

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 4, 2006 – In the fight against software piracy, Microsoft today introduced an innovative set of technologies that will be included in Windows Vista and Windows Server “Longhorn.” The technologies are aimed at helping prevent piracy and protect customers from software tampering while making licensing easier to manage.

Cori Hartje, Director, Microsoft Genuine Software Initiative

Collectively termed the Microsoft Software Protection Platform, the new technologies will introduce improvements in how Microsoft software activates, is validated online and behaves when tampering or hacking is detected. The upcoming releases of Windows Vista and Windows Server “Longhorn” – code name for the next generation of Microsoft’s server software – will be the first two products to ship with the new technologies included, but eventually more Microsoft products will adopt the technologies.

For more insight into the challenges posed by software piracy and how Microsoft plans to address them with the Software Protection Platform and other initiatives, PressPass spoke with Cori Hartje, director of Microsoft’s Genuine Software Initiative.

PressPass: What is the scope of the piracy problem around the world for the software industry?

Hartje: Piracy is one of the most significant problems facing the software industry globally. According to a report published by the Business Software Alliance – a leading software industry forum – 35 percent of all software installed worldwide during 2005 was pirated or unlicensed. That represents US$35 billion of industry losses in 2005 alone. While larger companies can still operate in the black, this piracy rate has a significant impact on the thousands of smaller organizations, from software publishers to software and PC resellers, that depend on the health of the software ecosystem to survive.

Software counterfeiting, for example, can cause resellers to lose the entire system sale to the unscrupulous companies that undercut their legitimate price by selling counterfeit copies of Microsoft Windows and other Microsoft software.

End users also are impacted. Those who have unknowingly purchased counterfeit software often have a compromised experience of the product. They’re also at greater risk, since counterfeit software can expose consumers and businesses to spyware, viruses, faulty code and identity theft. Over the years, IT professionals have stressed to us that the software is too easy to pirate, and knowing that they are getting genuine installations is often difficult.

PressPass: What is Microsoft doing to combat counterfeiting and other forms of software piracy?

Hartje: Over the past two years, Microsoft has consistently demonstrated a commitment to getting tougher on software counterfeiters. As part of this commitment, we developed the Genuine Software Initiative (GSI) to focus the company’s many activities and investments directed at combating piracy into a single coordinated effort. The cross-company initiative focuses on increasing investments across three strategic areas – education, engineering and enforcement. Within each area Microsoft is investing in activities that inform and help protect consumers and resellers from counterfeit software and other forms of software piracy. The announcement today is focused on explaining how the company is making investments in product engineering that will make the product harder to counterfeit and pirate. This is an important step in product engineering efforts.

PressPass: What is Microsoft announcing today?

Hartje: Today we are announcing the Software Protection Platform –a new set of technologies that will help Microsoft make software piracy harder, help protect consumers from the risks of counterfeit software, and better enable small to large businesses to manage their software assets. The Software Protection Platform has been under development for several years. It brings together new anti-piracy innovations, counterfeit detection and tamper-resistant features into a complete platform that provides better software protection to programs that leverage it. Initially, the upcoming releases of Windows Vista and Windows Server “Longhorn” will be the first two products to ship with this technology included, and eventually more Microsoft products will adopt this technology.

In addition, the Software Protection Platform enables the next generation of genuine validation programs such as Windows Genuine Advantage (product differentiation). In short, it introduces new ways for Windows Vista and Windows Server “Longhorn” to activate, validate as genuine, and behave when tampered with or hacked.

PressPass: Please describe these changes in more detail.

Hartje: One of the things the Software Protection Platform enables is enhancements to the genuine experience in Windows Vista, thereby differentiating it from the non-genuine experience. Customers that use genuine Windows Vista product should expect, and will get, an enhanced set of features that will not work on non-genuine or unlicensed versions of Windows Vista. Customers using genuine and licensed copies of Windows Vista will have access to Windows Aero and Windows ReadyBoost features, as well as full functionality of Windows Defender and extra optional updates from Windows Update. Computer systems that do not pass validation will not have access to these features, although they will still have access to critical security updates. Aero offers Microsoft’s best-designed, highest-performing desktop experience and is available in Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Ultimate. ReadyBoost lets users use a removable flash memory device to improve system performance without opening the computer to install additional memory. Both are key features that a user of non-genuine software will quickly realize are not running. Windows Defender helps protect a user’s PC against pop-ups, and security threats caused by spyware and other malware.

In addition, users of non-genuine Windows Vista software will be notified if their copy of Windows Vista is determined to be non-genuine with the appearance of a persistent statement in the lower right hand corner of their desktop space that reads, “This copy of Windows is not genuine.”

Another important change with Windows Vista has to do with the activation process. As with Windows XP, Windows Vista systems must activate with Microsoft with a genuine product key within 30 days. Failure to do so will result in the system operating in reduced functionality mode until a genuine product key is used to activate and a successful validation occurs.

Today, many victims of counterfeit software have software running with stolen product keys that originally were issued to organizations or large businesses. These victims may find out long after they have purchased their PC and installed the operating system software that it is not genuine when they try to get add-ons through the Microsoft Download center, Windows Update or other Microsoft service. With Windows Vista, a user will likely know that they have an installation with an unauthorized key much more quickly. If the software is discovered to be counterfeit or non-genuine, the user may be asked to reactivate their copy of Windows. Product keys can be blocked for a number of reasons, including if the product key is abused, stolen, pirated or seized as a result of anti-piracy enforcement efforts. Product keys can also be blocked if they are beta or test keys and have been disabled, if there were manufacturing errors in the keys or if the keys have been returned. Microsoft has call centers that can aid customers who have questions if they are told they are using non-genuine software.

PressPass: Does “reduced functionality” mean Microsoft will turn off people’s PCs running non-genuine Windows Vista software?

Hartje: No, Microsoft anti-piracy technologies cannot and will not turn off your computer. In alignment with our anti-piracy policies we have been continually improving the experience for our genuine customers, while restricting access to ongoing Windows capabilities for those who choose to use counterfeit software. Reduced functionality mode has been a part of the initial Windows XP product activation process for retail and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) installations since its launch, and, similarly, Windows Vista will have a reduced functionality mode but one that is enhanced. Reduced functionality mode in Windows Vista will allow the user to use the browser after the reduced functionality mode has begun. Reduced functionality mode can occur as a result of failed product activation or of that copy being identified as counterfeit or non-genuine. In most cases customers will be able to correct this situation quickly with the options provided. With the tools in place for OEMs, and small to large customers, we expect that most customers should never be affected by having a non-genuine installation.

PressPass: How will the Software Protection Platform affect activation of Windows Vista in enterprises with large numbers of PCs?

Hartje: There are several ways that customers acquire product. Many will choose to have Windows Vista installed by an OEM on a new PC. Some customers will upgrade existing Windows XP machines to Windows Vista. For these customers, the implementation of the Software Protection Platform for Windows Vista and Windows Server “Longhorn” provides a flexible set of technical and policy-related solutions, called Microsoft Volume Activation 2.0. This helps provide a more secure deployment solution with multiple, flexible options for customers using volume license keys to deploy many installations of the Windows Vista operating system in one location. This process can be done in batches or individually by PC. We will have deployment guides available for those who are going to plan an enterprise-wide Windows Vista upgrade.

These improved security and deployment technologies for volume licensing keys benefit customers by reducing the risk associated with the theft, leakage and illegal use of their volume licensing keys, as well as ensuring that the copies of Windows in an organization have not been tampered with.

PressPass: Is there a relationship between the volume activation process and how Microsoft bills its volume license customers?

Hartje: No, Microsoft is not using the product’s activation to affect the billing process for volume license customers.

PressPass: What happens if a user fails validation and wants to get genuine Windows Vista software? How can this be done?

Hartje: Customers will be able to easily determine the status of their Windows Vista installations. In the System Properties panel of the Windows Vista Control Panel, Windows Vista will display the genuine status of the installed copy of Windows Vista. From there, and from any screen notifying users of a failed validation, a user will be able to obtain more information on why the copy of Windows is not genuine, as well as resources for getting a genuine copy.

PressPass: Any other comments?

Hartje: Software piracy is not a victimless crime. It harms consumers, businesses and other organizations every year. The investments we have made to help address this challenge in Windows Vista and Windows Server “Longhorn” not only strengthen anti-piracy technologies, but also improve the overall software licensing experience and better protect customers – from individual consumers to the largest organization — from the risks of counterfeit software.

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