As a best practice (and general rule of thumb) I always try to keep digital copies of software applications and their respective product keys in a repository on my local computer, an external backup drive, or if providing services for a client, on their local server. Not only does this provide an easy-to-access source for pertinent information and apps, but also complements the hard copies usually stored on removable media and printed invoices with serial numbers.

But in over 15 years in IT, I’ve learned that every location has their system for organization — sometimes this system is no system whatsoever! So what do you do in a case like this, when a product key is needed to reinstall software for a lab full of computers and there is no paperwork indicating what the key might be? A key finder of course!

Key finders have been around for many years through different iterations. They’re usually very small apps that serve one purpose — to crawl the local system (or registry if you’re on Windows) and decode the encrypted serial number/product keys for installed software, then report it back to the end-user. It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that!

Windows users (for those in mixed or heterogeneous networks) have many apps to choose from. However, Mac users have only one reliable choice, Mac Product Key Finder.

Figure A

Opening the .DMG file from the download link on the site reveals two versions of the app, Free and Pro. (Figure B) The free version works pretty well at retrieving lost serials, yet little else.

Figure B

Using the Pro version will cost a one-time fee of $24.95, but offers the following:

  • Expanded database of detectable apps by 250%. (Figure C)
  • Includes hooks for terminal use (meaning it’s scriptable)
  • Allows deep searching of not only the local workstation, but also remote searching on nodes within the network just to name a few. (Figure D)

Figure C

    Figure D

    As with any application, it’s not foolproof. Unfortunately, finding keys through this method is sometimes impossible due to the encryption utilized by certain software vendors barring recovery of the serial numbers. This is understandable, as in the wrong hands, this app could be used to recover 100’s of keys to software protected by volume licensing, potentially wrecking havoc on daily business functions in your organization. However, in the correct hands and with proper use, this piece of code could become part of your network/system administration toolbox, alongside password reset and data recovery software.