Windows

Microsoft's WGA locks out valid users


If you're a Mac loyalist, here's some juicy news for you: A recent server problem at Microsoft ticked off some legitimate users of Windows Vista and Windows XP. Check out the news story, as reported by TechNewsWorld: "Weekend WGA Failure Locked Out Legit Windows Vista Users."

Here are some highlights from the article:

A server problem at Microsoft over the weekend caused the company's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation system to falsely accuse legitimate users of Windows Vista and XP of running pirated software, resulting in the disbanding of some features for those users until the problem was fixed.

The problem began around 8 p.m. Friday, causing users to begin posting messages about it on Microsoft's forums. Vista's Aero graphical interface was among the features disabled for users accused of running pirated software, and user frustration reached significant levels before the problem was fixed.

Though the problems lasted only some 19 hours on a weekend, users did not seem inclined to forgive Microsoft for the inconvenience.

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The irony of this flub by Microsoft is that its WGA validation software, which is supposed to help prevent piracy, actually gave users of pirated software an advantage during the outage.

If you're a Windows loyalist, were you affected by Microsoft's server problems? How forgiving (or unforgiving) are you for the inconvenience?

About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.

26 comments
a_erin
a_erin

The intent of WGA seems only have been a way for Microsoft to disable people's computers. Remember, according to Microsoft, no one technically "owns" their copies of MS products: we are "licensed" to use them. Personally I assert that I own my software: clicking a button saying otherwise in order to install a program is NOT signing my name to a contract. And when I shell out money for a program, I buy and own it just as I do a car or a six-pack of beer, and can alter these products to my heart's content. But this license "pretense" has certain consequences. When MS decides to force people to only use online programs, and store our files on their servers, they will be able to use WGA to invalidate our existing systems. They will be in the position to force us to comply with their new corporate direction--or else we won't be able to use our unconnected computers (to MS servers)--period! So it really behooves all of us to support hacks that disable WGA checks in Vista and to avoid them in XP. This way we can keep control of our own data, and use computing resources as we want to. Is it really a good idea to surrender personal control of our work to a company that has a long track history of exploiting stolen ideas from companies and individuals? Is it really a good idea to return to the days of terminals (however remote) connected to mainframes and depend upon them for all our processing power, or develop better mobile and standalone processors? The answer to the second question is obvious: we will not experience the progress of Moore's Law if we surrender all development to Microsoft, for if we do, computer advances would languish as certainly as telephony languished under Ma Bell for decades. Anyone think we would have way-cool mobile phones if Ma Bell hadn't been deregulated? So why do all the Microsoft worshipping techs think will happen to the science they so love under Microsoft control? But there is more at stake here for Microsoft than money: power: the power to control the flow of worldwide information between people. WGA represents the first step to that, very real, threat. The reason WGA checks so often is so that Microsoft can see how frequently people are upgrading their (currently private) hardware systems. This gives them close to a moment-by-moment picture showing how world computer technology is changing, data that can be analyzed and exploited when Microsoft decides it wans to force people to use thin-clients and depend upon their servers for all our computing power. Otherwise, Operating System validity checks would only be required at the time of installation. Assuming you believe that WGA was only meant to alert Microsoft to pirated installations of Windows and MS Software, or even of non-Microsoft products (in order to shutdown systems of people who buy rival products): who ever ceded authority and control to Microsoft over the products we pay for? Who ceded the authority of the American Justice system and police networks to Microsoft? They have NO BUSINESS monitoring ANYBODY--whether their aim is to protect them from piracy or not. No business has the right to invade peoples privacy on the pretense that someone else is stealing or changing their products in ways the company does not authorize. If someone buys a fake Armani suit, or steals one, who would allow Armani to build-into their suits the ability for Armani to declothe the wearer on the spot once the fake or stolen suit is detected? On top of that, would you want Armani to also be able to lock you out of being able to wear any item of all your other clothes? Or if this metaphor is too ridiculous for you, what if you substitute Armani suits with a Ford vehicle of your choice? Do you want Ford to be able to lock you out of your car, just because you modified the engine, added a non-factory installed radio or GPS system? Would you cede to Ford Motor Company the additional ability to lock-you out of every other car you owned because you added a non-Ford part to your car? Yet this is EXACTLY what Microsoft is doing to the control and access of our own, personally created and gathered data: and losing the ability to control our own data would be far more devastating than losing our ability to obtain clothes or use our cars. We could borrow clothes and cars (or rides) if a company disabled us from buying them or obtaining them for ourselves from the usual retail channels. But this tendency of Microsoft's to assume the authority to monitor society is truly dangerous. It has no legal or cultural precedent. Microsoft has already altered ownership laws to the ridiculous notion that we must pay for products we do not own. We would if we had to sign lease agreements to buy their software, but none of us do this: we buy their products like everything else we own. We find their products in a store or online, pay money, and then obtain the product--for ourselves. We never "lease" it or buy only the license. We buy the product and have the right to control it, alter it, or sell it again, at will (with the exception of applicable intellectual rights--we can't sell a Microsoft Product we purchase claiming we are Microsoft, or to get its code and repackage it under our name). Getting back to WGA: a moment-by-moment strategy for WGA can only tell Microsoft what systems hardware systems people are using, and what non-Microsoft software products people are buying and using. The only reason to adopt such a strategy is to exploit it by either intimidating people to not buy non-Microsoft products, or to threaten the nation or the world with shutting down key enterprises and government computers for a particular political agenda--maybe both. Personally, I wonder why Homeland Security hasn't taken the company to task for WGA, in light of this treat. Microsoft isn't exactly a trustworthy company. And to date, it hasn't realistically complied with our government's requirement that Windows become fully documented (especially as regards the hidden functionality of Internet Explorer), but it has shared its source code recently with China, a government that has stated it will use any and every means to destroy and defeat us. There is no way Microsoft's agenda is not nefarious, to the average computer user, or in the national security interest of the United States. After 911, the notion of any enemy, foreign or domestic, and the possibility of vast exploits to the nation's security via the World Wide Web should be taken as seriously as possible. WGA should be condemned as an illegal attack on privacy laws. If Microsoft loses money on piracy, then it must resort to the legal system for satisfaction, just like any other company or individual is required to do, not come up with a dangerous and intrusive scheme that ignores the Law, subverts government authority and sets aside Constitutional Amendments such as the right of people to actually own the things they buy, just to selfishly safeguard themselves from piracy, and in a way that creates critical security concerns for the people and nations that use their products in their daily computer needs. The far-reaching effect of Microsoft's improprieties, in WGA, are outrageous and should NOT be tolerated by any of us, inside or outside America.

drumbeat
drumbeat

Put the words Microsoft and anything else (in this case WGA) in an article title and the zealots and conspiracy theorists jump out of the woodwork. It is and has been my belief for quite some time that TechRepublic puts these types of articles front and center on purpose, just to get lots of buzz on their boards. For what it's worth, I have 3 XP systems at home and have NEVER had an issue with WGA. My systems were activated upon OS installation and have never failed to pass the "authentication" when (on the few occasions) I want to download software from the MS site. It makes me wonder what people are actually doing to or on their PC's that cause MS to de-activate them.

a_erin
a_erin

Sorry, drumbeat, but my post wasn't intended to stir the pot with "conspiracy theories." If you had read my post correctly, the threat of WGA would have been apparent. I briefly described problems and had concerns based on those problems, which I thought merited investigation--or at least, a second look at the company. Why would you want to have a company from whom you buy products: 1) Constantly checking to see if you are pirating their product, or 2) Allow such a company to remove your ability to use the product you bought at will (at their will)--and any similar product, to boot? What company would ever have the right to do this to their customers, or violate the privacy of suspected pirates? Even the police cannot violate the privacy and property of those suspected of criminal activity, but have to submit to a legal process and rules of "probable cause" before they can even begin to investigate a possible crime. In other words, they have to have evidence that a crime was committed. But you are willing to allow MS to enter your home through your computer and snoop around at will, with NO evidence that you are using pirated software? You have to realize that if a thing walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, swims like a duck, has a body like a duck--you must conclude it is most probably a duck. The ethical behavior and actual performance of MS over the years isn't stellar, by any means, and its stated goals to supplant standalone systems with their own would appear suspect to all but the naive. Even if MS were a company that could be trusted, it would be prudent to investigate or take a second look at the company because of the problem WGA created last Friday. Your own perception of your particular experience does not apply at all to this argument. Let's look at this another way. If you had lived in Germany in 1933, would you have voted for, or chosen not to vote against Adolph Hitler because the behavior of the Nazis didn't happen to bother you particularly? Too many people in that election actually didn't vote at all. Today, too many people ignore the problems of security threats in physical objects, such as buildings, exposed pipelines, and organizational structures/rules. After 9/11, a reasoned response like mine should not have looked like a mere "conspiracy theory" to anyone but the apathetic. But look where apathy led pre-WWII Germany. Unless, of course, you happen to actually be sympathetic to those who want to exploit these security threats. The threat of someone, either MS or an outside hacker, on all the computers that now depend on it, is serious. It is time to take a good hard look at MS as a company and in terms of the threat its effective monopoly of Operating Systems poses to the millions of people who use these products and rely on them daily. Failing this, we are really at the company's mercy. You may trust some companies with your data: but people are people: we all have agendas. So do companies, because they are made up of people. And some people have some pretty nefarious agendas. If you don't believe that, you must not believe that men like Hitler ever lived or did any real harm. The potential for great harm with WGA is real, and augmented (even supported) by the kind of incompetent and unethical company MS has become (really, always has been). Does anybody reading this response really think MS should not be taken to task for giving their source code to China, but not to our own government? Especially so since our whole economic system now relies on MS OSes, databases and business software? Even more especially so since China has threatened total War with us? Get your head on straight, drumbeat--don't follow the distant drumbeats of apathetic pre-WWII Germans. Spend your efforts helping your fellow Americans decrease their national and personal security risks.

seanferd
seanferd

If MS would like to "license" their OS to consumers at a reasonable price,let alone the $3.00 price for China, who would ever bother to pirate their software? Also in the WGA disadvantage arena: it is nice to know updates are available, but quite another thing to have your system tray hound you until you install them. I can't tell tou how many times I had to uninstall updates or reinstall the OS because the updates destabilized the system.

Genera-nation
Genera-nation

They work in a similar manner as this yet we all have one and there are no rants about it. How come this is such a big issue for an OS and not a phone?

TechExec2
TechExec2

. I was a Windows loyalist for 15 years until I found out that Vista and future Windows would capriciously and repeatedly de-activate on legitimate customers. It didn't have to happen to me personally. I knew what was coming down the road. I immediately started making plans to leave Windows back in February this year. Today I run Kubuntu Linux, OpenOffice, and other open source applications on my personal workstations. Of course, there are STILL a very few Windows apps that I have not let go of yet. I run those on Windows XP, in a VMware VM, on that Linux system. It is begging for trouble to run an operating system whose stability hangs on an easily-severed thread connected to Redmond. Only a company that is too rich, too arrogant, and too overconfident would ever build a WGA, and then fail to promptly remove it when millions of customers express their dislike of it. Microsoft thinks they can get away with this. So far they are right. But, not with me. BTW: That Windows XP in the VM is NOT allowed to speak to Windows Update at any time! :^0

TechExec2
TechExec2

Were the WGA servers de-activated by WGA? Did that cause the problem? :^0 :^0 :^0

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...and I'm sure it will happen again. I'm just waiting for an outage that will affect millions and cause serious interuptions on a wide scale. Perhaps that will be what it takes to put an end to this insanity. I think it's insane to allow code on any device specifically designed for the purpose of shutting down the device for anything other than safety reasons. It's difficult enough to get Windows configured to be stable and reliable without having to worry about this nonsense that serves no useful purpose to the end user. Roughly 20 years ago, just a few years into the PC revolution, software vendors tried implementing various disruptive copy protection schemes that only aggravated legitimate users while providing but little nuisance to the actual pirates. Within a year, the IT world raised up and flatly stated that they would no longer purchase any software that included such mechanisms. And sure enough, the schemes disappeared nearly overnight. It???s time that we do so again. Every time something like this comes up, Linux starts looking better and better.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I had a commodore 64 with a 1541 drive and I was **constantly** fixing it because the copy protection of the day caused errors which would cause the reader heads to bang, knocking the heads out of alignement... anyone with a C64 probably remembers having to readjust the heads constantly....

mthui7
mthui7

I really hate the company producing "stupid and unstable coding" like Vista. I really love the Linux communities for producing "un-stupid and stable" coding which really makes contribution to the human race and brings the world forward. Crappy operating system wastes our time and money for purchasing and upgrading our hardware for nothing but a few useless animations. Notwithstanding, that unscrupulous company even puts an end of life to previous version of operating system (XP) trying to eradicate the ultimately acceptable operating system comprised of numerous patches from the computers of all users in the world and gobbling money from our wallets! It is OUTRAGEOUS!!!

wilko
wilko

Quite frankly Microsoft's attitude to piracy is now approaching paranoia levels. I'm all for preventing piracy but validating any particular piece of software once and once only is all that should be required, not every time you need to download something. IF MS want to maintain their dominant position into the future they need to mellow their approach somewhat. Constanttly getting up the noses of legimate users is not the way to go about it.

rhomp2002
rhomp2002

Once I validated my ownership of the O/S at issue, then it should be mine so long as it was on the same box. Regardless of what I changed, the O/S should be accepted. What they need to do is fix the security issues of what they will do, not act like a nanny. If I have a hardware problem and have to change out some parts, what does the O/S have to do with that other than providing drivers for the new parts. If I try to install the O/S on another computer, that is different, but that was not the case here or in most of the WGA horror stories I have read about. My question is what is M$ going to do to fix the problem or do they think it is just fine to penalize valid owners of their software whenever it suits them. Sounds like a good way to chase people away to me. It did me. I read about the WGA and went out of my way to ensure that it never got loaded onto my XP computer. I finally got tired of all the messages that I needed to load the really important security fix (WGA) to my computer and wiped XP and went with Linux. I have not looked back and am amazed at all the things I no longer have to do to keep my computer virus-free and running better than ever. If not for WGA I would probably never have even looked at other O/S products but now I am M$-free and doing well.

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

Due to a server error, Microsoft's WGA validation software locked legitimate users out of Windows Vista and Windows XP. If you're a Windows loyalist, were you effected by Microsoft's server problems? How forgiving (or unforgiving) are you for the inconvenience?

SentryWatch
SentryWatch

Microsoft recently announced plans to offer WGA and its code structures to software developers to encourage them to follow suit. This will be nothing but an utter disaster as each software developer tries to outdo what MS has done! The bigger issue of course will be software developers wont have the same level of service to offer as MS does in terms of server validation against PC manifests. (yes they do keep tabs on your system!) Think about what it will do to your system uptime as the lights start going out on applications as developers find clever ways to turn off systems you are evaluating, havent pa?d for or introduce new "features" requiring validation. MS has got this one just plain wrong and we need to make them understand the issues they are creating. They are punishing the wrong end of town!

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Microsoft can get away with forcing WGA on everyone because there is no viable alternative to running Windows. However, there is plenty of competition and alternatives available in the rest of the software marketplace. Smart vendors will watch what is happening in the DRM wars currently going on. More and more users are beginning to reject the complex schemes that add absolutely no value to the consumer experience, but only frustrate it. As an IT person, could you imagine dealing with WGA-like implimentations for a dozen or more programs on every system you oversee? Forget it. It won't happen.

SentryWatch
SentryWatch

I agree in part, we have already seen several vendors initiate their own versions of activation and the disasters it has created for them have seen some start to backpeddle. However it won't stop some vendors trying out activation (its good for Microsoft so why won't it be good for me) and wrecking havoc with your systems, as they play around with their approach to activation. I just dont trust the methods of implementation that are likely to be deployed as some will see this as a, per subsrciption rental approach, that can be slipped in. From a more pragmatic approach, because it takes time to step off to alternatives, the disruption myriads of vendors will create by adopting activation that won't be in synch with each other or to any plan you have, will cause a very significant cost burden that we all shouldn't be forced to wear. It will eat into your budget and upper level management won't understand the issues faced. Activation is the WRONG method to manage legitimate users (those who paid the full fare) for ALL their licenses.

donaldcoe
donaldcoe

You have to be my age to have seen bootlegging at it?s worst, everyone somewhere had at least 1 copy of some software that was from a friend of a friend, whether it was a GAME or a support application. At the time it was all because the cost of an original version was so far reaching that no one could afford it. I remember 5 guys pooling their resources to buy a copy of software they we could use and learn from to get better jobs in the IT field. Every day worrying whether getting caught was worth the risk or trying to second guess the JUDGE (MS) whether the small pee as we were worth the investment of running us to ground. That was 12 years ago, and YES I truly regret it, and think that this stress nearly killed me many times over. People tend to forget the underlying reasons for Windows Genuine Authentication (WGA), even in the beginning thou copy write protection was in place it was weak and someone always found a way to defeat it, those days not yet completely gone but greatly constricted. No one should say that this WGA failed at what it was designed to do (that is SHARPLY CURB PIRACY by governments and citizens alike) and damned quick at that. In any war, innocence do get harmed, and YES I have been harmed at least 4 times with legally purchased and licensed copies of XP, affecting my many home workstations since the purchase of a license costs the same as if you are purchasing the new CD and packaging. But if the software says it does not pass muster to get those pesky updates that also affects all your MS app?s what are you to do but buy new again and again. Which I call a bag of BS. Sooner or later what goes around will come back around to the gorilla running the show. I to have jumped ship before but came back by certain necessities So I take my lumps by trying to get right; do right and stay right.

MechanicalPC
MechanicalPC

It's easy to tell people it was a glitch. After all, who but Microsoft employees knows for sure if it was a sanctioned test of their license validation system or if it was a simple server glitch? I'm not convinced it was a glitch. I've participated in tests where a "glitch" was created on a live network just to see if the something that was put in place would work. Wouldn't be too tough for MS to do the same then claim it was a glitch. As far as Windows vs Mac vs Linux...Microsoft would come much further ahead if they focused their anti-piracy security measures on their other products.

graeme.m.ross
graeme.m.ross

Scuse me, I am confused, just to who's advantage is WGA. It really doesn't look like it is to the users

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...Windows Genuine Disadvantage. There is absolutely no value or "advantage" to end users, unless you consider a few more megabytes of code running on your system that serves no purpose other than to shut your computer down should it decide that you are not "genuine" enough something worthwhile to you. The only "advantage" is to Microsoft. I saw this coming several years ago when I was at a MS dog-and-pony show and, after an hour of touting how XP was going to be so wonderful for IT administrators, they popped the new registration process on us. The presenter was speechless to a room full of IT professionals who wanted an answer as to how any of this added value to our jobs, as opposed to the reality of stealing more hours of our productivity only to solve Microsoft's problems.

bikingbill
bikingbill

Microsoft is a commercial company whose first priority is to its shareholders. So it is quite entitled to make its customers (users) suffer if that adds value to its shares. Customers theoretically have a choice. Until they try to use HM Government's secure web site.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...when the IT world finally says "enough" and jettisons Windows for a lower cost alternative.

grax
grax

?If you?re a Mac loyalist, here?s some juicy news for you:? This item cannot be of any interest to a Mac User or to a "Linux Loyalist" for that matter. The problem only afflicts Windows Users. This is reflected in the responses that I?ve read. Everyone's going to Linux! So, one is obliged to ask the question: Why did you begin that way? Answer: It?s a wind-up! I have noticed this tendency in several of your contributors. It isn?t edifying or particularly helpful.

Litehouse
Litehouse

I agree, titles and tones like these in a "news" story are very annoying, and in some cases even offensive. Anyone know of a tech news site that just gives the facts and doesn't try to sway a users opinion with their tone?