Microsoft Statement: More Information on Windows Vista Software Protection Policies

REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 14, 2006 – Software piracy is an ever-evolving threat that affects unsuspecting computer users and the software business. With many users now thinking about updating their PC with a new Windows Vista operating system or buying a new PC with Windows Vista pre-installed, it’s now more important than ever to understand the value of genuine software.  Non-genuine software can include altered code from the Internet, malware, spyware and other dangerous threats. Software pirates create authentic-looking copies of the software, and distribute or sell them on the Internet, in stores and on the streets.

Consumer Protection

The recently released report from IDC, commissioned by Microsoft outlines how this problem is increasing. And although Windows Vista is not yet broadly available, unauthorized DVD copies of Windows Vista are already for sale on streets around the world. Users unaware or looking for an inexpensive version of the software are risking, at minimum, losing their money, and worse, exposure to the security risks associated with acquiring and running counterfeit software.

Example of genuine Windows Vista packaging.

Customers can help protect themselves by asking for genuine Microsoft software, which is always accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity. Back-up media such as a CD or DVD, when provided by the PC manufacturer, will be branded by the manufacturer and the CD or DVD will include the name of the Microsoft software product the PC is licensed for. Users should protect their product keys from misuse; a genuine Windows product key may only be used to activate one copy of Windows Vista. With the exception of products purchased by customers under volume license agreements, users can be confident that 100 percent of the copies of Windows Vista advertised for purchase or download prior to the January 30, 2007 consumer general availability date are counterfeit, and that any new PC purchased and pre-loaded with Windows Vista prior to general availability is improperly licensed or counterfeit software, and carries a risk of hacks, Trojans or other malware.

Windows Vista Software Protection Policy

As Microsoft looks forward to general availability of its Windows Vista operating system at the end of January, it wants to reiterate its policy on system file tampering, counterfeiting and licensing workarounds, and let users know what response they can expect from Microsoft both during this pre-launch period, and afterwards. 

As part of its ongoing efforts to protect customers, Microsoft will periodically review product keys that appear to have been leaked or stolen, and will thoroughly investigate reports of system file tampering. Because a system file tamper compromises the integrity of the operating system, and puts the user at risk, reinstallation of the operating system may be required. For product keys that have been determined to be illegally obtained or distributed, Microsoft will block these keys, which will eventually result in the system losing access to product enhancements and having certain features disabled.  In some cases, the user will be asked to reactivate with a genuine product key. Failure to reactivate will result in that copy of Windows Vista being placed into a reduced functionally mode, as explained in our October “Software Protection Platform” announcement. It is important to note that even in reduced functionality mode users can always gain access to their personal data.

In the event illegal workarounds or other counterfeit Windows Vista code are posted to the Internet or become available through other means, Microsoft will take appropriate action to protect users from the risks of using counterfeit copies and to protect its intellectual property. Microsoft may take additional steps to stop the spread and use of counterfeit versions of Windows Vista by releasing updates to the software, and then distributing the updates using various mechanisms, such as posting them on and/or through Windows Update. 

Counterfeit software packages in Brazil.

This week, Microsoft released such an update, which detects tampering of Windows Vista by mixing files from various test and final versions of the software in order to work around licensing mechanisms. When detected, these unauthorized copies will be given a 30-day grace period, after which they will be placed into a reduced functionality mode. This week’s update will only affect systems that are running a specific binary-tampered version of Windows Vista. 


Microsoft hopes that by taking this action now, we can send a message to counterfeiters and would-be counterfeiters, and help protect our legitimate customers from being victimized by further distribution of these tampered products. Microsoft is taking these steps to protect its intellectual property while at the same time minimizing the number of people who become victims — believing they’ve purchased legitimate software, only to discover later on that they haven’t. We expect this and other actions and policies to be attacked or worked-around, but we intend to continue taking steps to increase the resiliency of the Windows Vista system to counterfeiting and tampering in order to help Microsoft, its partners and legitimate users.

This page features a sample illustration of genuine Windows Vista packaging, as well as a counterfeit copy Microsoft obtained recently in Brazil. For more information on how to recognize genuine Microsoft software, visit To help determine if your copy of Microsoft Windows XP or Windows Vista is genuine, go to

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