Vista WGA problems confirmed

Vista WGA problems confirmed

Summary: I've seen Vista's new WGA problems up close and personal, and I've got the screenshots to prove it. Why are some programs able to convince Windows that the operating system has been tampered with? Why is Windows Defender allowing them to do it? And what can you do if you're caught in the crosshairs?

TOPICS: Windows

This morning I reported on Vista activation and validation problems I've been hearing and reading about in the last few weeks. This afternoon I have a firsthand report.

When I installed a beta version of Acclaim's 9Dragons role-playing game (protected, apparently, by nProtect's GameGuard anti-cheating software), Vista dropped a bomb on me. A time bomb, that is. The software convinced the Windows Software Licensing service that the operating system was being tampered with, deactivating the system and starting a 72-hour countdown to "reduced functionality mode." This image gallery documents the process:

I'm baffled that this Windows error message doesn't actually mention Windows. It just says "your license" and "your software." How am I supposed to know which license and which software. And in the left-hand-meet-right-hand department, where's Windows Defender in all this? I'm installing a piece of software that is tampering with my operating system, according to the Windows Software Licensing module. So why is Windows Defender looking the other way while this dastardly deed is being done? Why doesn't it detect and block this software?

In this case, closing the game and restarting the computer allowed me to reactivate over the Internet, but other people haven't been so lucky, based on reports filed at Microsoft's Vista Validation Issues forum.

For the record, I think Acclaim deserves a share of the blame for this problem. This problem has been known for a month, maybe much longer. When I installed the 9Dragons software today, it auto-updated itself to the latest version. Supposedly, nProtect has had a patch available for some time, so why doesn't Acclaim include it?

Still, shifting the blame around is cold comfort to a Windows user who downloads and installs a perfectly innocent-looking program only to discover that they've actually pulled the pin on a grenade that will go off in 72 hours unless it's disarmed.


So far, it looks like most of these problems respond to simple treatment: uninstall the game or program and reactivate, by phone if necessary. Still, it's a hassle to deal with, and nontechnical users are likely to be thoroughly confused.

I was fortunate enough not to reach "reduced functionality mode." Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has an excellent image gallery showing exactly what that looks like. (Hint: not fun.)

I'm still waiting for a response from Microsoft.

Update 27-Feb-2007: Microsoft's David Lazar, Director of the Genuine Windows program, says a technical team is investigating this issue now. A Knowledge Base article on the subject (931699) was published on February 21 acknowledging the existence of the problem and listing options for fixing the damage. I'll be speaking with him and others later this week and will post a follow-up then.

Topic: Windows

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  • "Windows was deactivated due to a hardware change"??!

    Do what? Are you telling me that Vista will pitch a fit and stop working if I upgrade the PC it's running on?

    Dunno about you, but if my car told me it wasn't going to start because I upgraded the stereo, I would run towards the nearest living thing and kill it.

    Software will trigger it too? That is just pure nonsense.
    • This does seem outrageous

      This does seem extremely outrageous. There wasn't any hardware change, there was a fracking SOFTWARE change!

      Something tells me that WGA is a LITTLE too picky about software and registry key changes somehow.

      I have a game that also uses Nprotects system, from WildGames. It's a good thing I didn't go out and buy Vista immediately, if it was going to do this.
      • The truth

        The truth is, MS assumes you are a thief. The software triggered the de-activation
        because Windows thought it was trying to hack your system files to remove the WGA

        Remember, the ONLY thing that will get MS to break it's Tuesday patch cycle is a
        hack to its DRM.
    • What kind of hardware?

      If software will trigger it, what about USB devices like external DVD writers or printers?
      How long does it take to validate Vista on a dialup 24k connection?
      • Never mind the hardware...what about the soft?

        How long will it be before we see the first "prank" programs which do this to Vista?

        Six months from now I predict a steady stream of Vista deactivation programs circulating on the net.
    • Worse than pure nonsense

      When I pay for something, I require that it work, and specifically forbid that it be designed to not work because I MIGHT have been up to something. What this amounts to is that everyone who DID buy the software has to be put through changes to USE what they paid for... because of those who did not buy the software and (may) be running illegal copies. Fankly, not my problem. I paid you. I expect, nay, REQUIRE working software. Now. Immediately and always. Maybe I don't have teh time to spare to go F around with verifying, validating, etc. Murphy's Law will insist upon me being on a deadline/run when something like this pops up.

      Unacceptable, Mr. Gates. You have all the money and programmers in the world, and this sort of heavy-handed BS is the best protection you could come up with for your OS? I'd rather have a dongle!
      • Microsoft has gone over the edge

        That's why I bought a new IMac. I run parallels (WinXP) occasionally for those Windows Apps I need once in a while. However, I do all my browsing, email, photo-editing etc on the Mac. No viruses, worms etc. And the stuff works first time!
        What a concept!
        • good so far except ....

          now windows XP has the update WGA and failures happen to Windows running under paralels on the same basis as any other machine. Yes, I know Windows under plls has been more reliable because there is a real operating system performing I/O, however, the long reach of WGA will now affect you too. We have 2 programs that only run on windows that we still have no alternative for on mac or linux, so we have to keep a couple of copies running. Already triggered WGA tonight and we think it was transferring a USB headset (not sure).
        • if we wanted a mac

          i had a mac and they are idiot boxes i like having chose about the app's i use and there are to few for apple and i had my problems with mac and if mac had more than a 2.5 percent of computer users trust me they would be having viruses worms and all the nasties windozz does right now it's just not worth the writers time and effort to write them for mac
          SO.CAL Guy
    • Re: "Windows was deactivated due to a hardware change"??!

      I posted something similar in the thread under the image gallery of this story.

      Why should it matter if you upgrade your pc, replace the graphics card or whatever, Vista shouldnt stop working because of that. Vista sucks and I won't be touching it with a 60 foot pole anytime soon.
    • But you agreed<g>

      While I agree that WGA is unreasonably harsh here is a quote from the license agreement that YOU agreed to: "Some changes to your computer components or the software may require you to reactivate the software."

      It goes on to explain but you get the idea.

      I'd sure like to see license control that actually works.
    • This is not new.

      XP would do the same thing. If you changed enough of the hardware (and Microsoft
      would never say how much that was), XP assumed it was running (illegally) on a
      computer other than the one for which it was licensed.
    • In SANSKRIT language VISA means SHIT

      Now you know why MS VISTA behaves like that too. All Microsoft always enjoy is making using end-users as beta testers. They have never tested anything inhouse prior to release. What is evident to people in just a week's use was not caught when Microsoft's programmers or approvers or beta-testers tested it.

      They have stopped to think coherently in trying to apply various stupid laws and restrictions on users. The future is no more unpredictable for them.
      Web Smart
  • Blame

    The tolerance that technical users have of these kinds of issues is far greater than
    that of non-technical users. The ability to diagnose and solve these kinds of
    problems isn't something everyone has pursued. They may have had better things to
    do. To them, a problem like this is not an intriguing puzzle to solve.

    I'm not suggesting anyone is taking the wrong tone; but there has to be some
    advocacy on behalf of those who can't make it to the lofty threshold where blame is
    Harry Bardal
    • I agree completely

      Somewhere (or, more accurately, everywhere) in this process there has to be an Easy button for those who are truly innocent victims.
      Ed Bott
      • However...

        If there was an "easy button," doesn't that just demonstrate that this whole new improved WGA thing was a monumental waste of time?

        For me, I think considering the amount of money they pumped into developing Vista something as fundamental to its operation as WGA is should have been tested to the limits. But, it seems that they are only now realizing that it sucks. Now that's probably enough for someone to decide to try and press a class action suit against Microsoft.

        Also, and somewhat tangentially, people have been complaining about Vista and hardware issues. Perhaps the "why" the hardware people haven't done much with Vista is because they saw the WGA fiasco happening before Microsoft did, and have decided to wait until things get to a stage where it's worth their while developing "Vista compliant" drivers etc.
        • Vista and hardware issues

          "Perhaps the "why" the hardware people haven't done much with Vista is because they saw the WGA fiasco happening before Microsoft did, and have decided to wait until things get to a stage where it's worth their while developing "Vista compliant" drivers etc."

          These vendors probably couldn't develop drivers because each time they went to test the driver, WGA kicked them out and after 10 or 20 times, MS wouldn't even let them activate over the phone. How much does it cost to develop software for an OS that will constantly tell you that you're a pirate and need to buy (another) license?

          No wonder there is no software for Vista!

          • Oh, please...

            Not even Microsoft should do something like that.
            They know they need to have the developers on their side. I'm quite certain that this only happened in your imagination.

            However, the vulnerability of the licensing system is a very real problem. The problem in the article was an accident caused without malice. What if somebody actually was out to get them.

            It is quite clear that Microsoft have been too concerned about protecting their software, and too little protecting their customers.
          • Not even Microsoft should do something like that...

            Well there's a great number of things that MS just shouldn't do, but they have anyway. What makes you think that this is just imaginary? Have you ever develop drivers for any flavor of NT (this includes NT, W2K, XP, or Vista)?

            Windows driver development is real unpretty stuff and if the driver you're rolling and testing causes the system to think it's been tampered with, well guess what? You're reactivating, like it or not. There is no more intrusive way to tamper with Windows than to write and debug a driver for it.

            Now some might go as far as to say that they should be running a virtualized "Vista" so you can reset the VM and go back in time easily like apps developers usually do. But you can't debug hardware specific drivers from a VM. So every d@mn time you do something that makes Vista think you're tampering, you gonna get to reactivate. Now does that seem fun?

            Maybe MS releases a Vista debug kernel that bypasses the WGA for development, but that's risky for MS as that can get into the wild and let hackers do all kinds of things as well as become a source for piracy. So MS's gonna be real tight chested with that binary. I have my doubts that this is widely available to most hardware vendors.
        • Easy Button

          Yeah, computer use should be like an easy button, with or without WGA. Why do so
          many computer shops and "experts" recommend Windows? Job security. Lots of
          service calls sure to come...