Microsoft to include anti-piracy kill switch in Windows (after originally saying it wouldn't do so)

Microsoft to include anti-piracy kill switch in Windows (after originally saying it wouldn't do so)

Summary: This will undoubtedly descend into a war of semantics when it comes to what technically constitutes a kill switch. But, developers have tried "kill switches" in their code for as long as I can remember (often referring to them as such) and it's commonly understood what that means in the context of disabling software.

TOPICS: Windows

This will undoubtedly descend into a war of semantics when it comes to what technically constitutes a kill switch. But, developers have tried "kill switches" in their code for as long as I can remember (often referring to them as such) and it's commonly understood what that means in the context of disabling software. Now, several months after going on record as saying that it wouldn't include a kill switch in Windows, Microsoft has announced that Vista will automatically log you off if your copy of the operating system is thought to have been pirated. In a document that the software giant has posted on its Web site, the company wants the press to see it not as something that shuts the computer in question down, but rather as "reduced functionality."

Last June, in response to fellow ZDNet blogger Ed Bott's assertion that Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) technology would include a kill switch that could shut down the operating system if it didn't pass Microsoft's anti-piracy smell test, Microsoft was very clear in saying that such a switch did not exist. Wrote Ed Bott in his original post:

Guess what? WGA might be on the verge of getting even messier. In fact, one report claims WGA is about to become a Windows “kill switch” – and when I asked Microsoft for an on-the-record response, they refused to deny it.

But then, Microsoft actually denied it. Officially. From one of Bott's follow-up posts:

Yesterday, at the end of the workday, I received this e-mail from a representative of Microsoft’s PR agency, Waggener Edstrom [that said] "No, Microsoft anti-piracy technologies cannot and will not turn off your computer.  In our ongoing fight against piracy, we are constantly finding and closing loopholes pirates use to circumvent established policies. The game is changing for counterfeiters. In Windows Vista we are making it notably harder and less appealing to use counterfeit software, and we will work to make that a consistent experience with older versions of Windows as well."

Then comes this morning's report from's Joris Evers (headline: Microsoft to lock pirates out of Vista PCs):

Windows Vista will have new antipiracy technology that locks people out their PCs if the operating system isn't activated within 30 days after installation....If Vista is not activated with a legitimate product registration key in time, the system will run in "reduced functionality mode" until it is activated, said Thomas Lindeman, a senior product manager at Microsoft. In this mode, people will be able to use a Web browser for up to an hour, after which time the system will log them out, he said....The new technology is part of Microsoft's new "Software Protection Platform," which the company plans to announce on Wednesday.

Microsoft has apparently prepared a FAQ that eschews the language "kill switch" for "reduced functionality," claiming that "Microsoft anti-piracy technologies cannot and will not turn off your computer." But is it a kill switch? OK, so maybe it doesn't physically turn the power to your computer off like a similar switch might cut of the electrical system in a car. But, if after an hour of being able to use nothing but the Internet, if the computer logs you out, it's as good as off if you ask me. 

Meanwhile, Bott has been on the WGA warpath highlighting how the supposed anti-piracy technology is falsely tagging genuine copies of Windows as being non-genuine (aka "pirated"). From another one of  Bott's posts last week comes this unconfirmed tale of woe (it seems pretty legit):

I have run the WGA download; I have validated the software; MGA still says genuine; enabled active-x and run the wgatray /b.

This machine is supposed to be running in the [operating room], and the last thing the docs need when they go to pull up the xrays/ct scans is to be told they are illegal (and to spend time clicking around to get rid of the fool message).

The wga message started after I reformatted my Dell and re-loaded windows. Then I installed the MS updates (which were fine) and then installed a new nvidia card. Since then it’s been wga heartbreak!

Any more suggestions?? HELP!!

Bott includes a screen shot of the Windows dialog that doctor's in the operating room are likely to bump into should the problem go unresolved:


Resolve later? As in, let's close the patient up now, fix the computer, and then, if the patient hasn't died, bring him back in to restart the surgery? I spoke to Bott his morning, and apparently, more and more reports regarding WGA's fallibility are coming to his attention (stay tuned to his blog for a blockbuster of a post on more WGA failures).  In other words, the net net is that Microsoft appears ready to implement the equivalent of a kill switch that's based on what could be fallible validation technology.

Meanwhile, regarding Microsoft's about face on including a kill switch in Windows, Bott had this to say this morning:

Microsoft denies that this is a "kill switch" for Windows Vista, even giving it a separate question and answer in its mock interview announcing the program [Bott is referring to the aforementioned FAQ]. Technically, they're right, I suppose. Switching a PC into a degraded functionality where all you can do is browse the Internet doesn't kill it; but it's arguably a near-death experience.

Topic: Windows

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  • Its Performance Stupid

    Microsoft Security/ AntiPiracy is likely not the story we in IT need to follow. How goes it on performance? The HP scandle clews us into the fact that HP didn't like Intel's move to multi-processor multi-core any more than Microsoft managment. It put both companies into the hasbeen category instead of the upandcomer group. I suspect HP and Microsoft both face disappointing benchmarks on any device that uses this year's multicore/multiprocessor technology. Its a paradyme shift and when the dust settles the losers will be obvious to all. I suspect both Hurd and Ballmer will feel the heat of disappointed shareholders at that time.
    • I agree 100%

      I agree completely with this guy.

      M$ is worried with antipiracy, blocking users and do not provide
      any solution to real problems. Example: they realized that a
      virus sent thru email could spread using multiple connections on
      the TCP/IP socket. What they did? Instead of solving the virus
      problem, they limit the number of concurrent TCP/IP
      connections that can be lauched at one time: the result? Simple:
      a slow connection speed rate.

      That's windows.

      On the professional and highend markets, software sellers
      shutdown any useless process running on background systems
      on the OS to gain speed. You can do that in MacOS and Linux
      but you can't do it on windows.

      Windoze has thousands of bugs and instead solving that, they
      will launch a new buggy version of windoze, with 10 times more
      bad written code. You will have to have 80 cores to launch Hasta
      La Vista.

    • By the minute, LINUX continues to look better and better.

      Only if Microsoft would put as much effort into making Windoze work better.

      If M$ put as much effort into making Windoze work and getting rid of the bugs as it does into its anti piracy efforts then Windows would be much better than Linux.

      I'm finding this Microsoft anti-piracy nonsense becoming all too much of a yawn. Can't see myself using Vista or recommending it to my customers anyway. (It took me between three and four years to switch from Windows 2000 to XP, so I reckon it'll be much longer with Vista, if ever!)

      As I see it, with Vista, even us legitimate customers will have to worry about:

      * Privacy. M$'s invasion of one's privacy (it will be of great concern to users what Vista, via the rego process and automatic updates, will be telling M$ about us).

      * What happens when something goes wrong accidentally (as it always will)? Legitimate customers will probably be branded as pirates. Or your machine will stop working. (And as Murphy will have it, this will be at the worst possible time--we users don't need to expose ourselves to this unnecessary M$ crap.)

      * Seems Vista will be using too many of our valuable clock cycles to check the integrity of its product, this might lead to the product slowing down even more than it does now.

      (Perhaps we users should start charging M$ rent for the clock cycles that it uses on our machines to check its licencing requirements. You could call it a sort of an end users' reverse-EULA!)

      By the minute, LINUX continues to look better and better.
  • fallible validation technology

    "...based on what could be fallible validation technology"

    What technology isn't fallible?

    I'm not a fan of the "reduced functionality" plan -- locking users out of their own data is a ~bad~ idea, but neither do I expect any validation system MS comes up with to be infallible.

    Let's face it -- MS in a tight spot right now. They need Vista to succeed -- and they need to effectively limit software piracy. Those two ambitions may be incompatible. If they are, expect to see Apple's market share rise.
    • Disagree...

      "and they need to effectively limit software piracy"

      Piracy has been rampant for M$ products for years. They've still made their billions. The vast majority will continue to be honest and pay their licensing fees. Particularly corporate types who know the legal ramifications of cheating on licensing. In the post-Enron era, everything is accounted for pretty tightly, and corporate licensing is where M$ makes most money.

      No, there is no reason for this continual effort tighten the affects the honest in a very negative way, and the piracy runs on unabated. Just leave it alone, and prosecute the guilty that you catch rather than imposing draconian measures on the rest of us.
      • missing the scope of the problem

        I don't entirely disagree with you -- when I said "they need to effectively limit software piracy" I meant that they need to ~from their perspective~.

        WGA has nothing to do with any user in the US. WGA is all about locking down authentication keys so that those keys can't activate copies of windows in China and Southeast Asia. The numbers over there are simply staggering (one American University VLK was used to install 80 million copies of Windows in China). MS just won't ignore those kinds of numbers.

        And, unfortunately, if MS wants to fight that piracy, they have to do it on their own because the Chinese government won't help them (the way the US govt will, by tracking and indicting organized piracy rings) or won't help them as much. In a way, we suffer because the Chinese governemnt can't or won't enforce MS property rights well enough.

        "The vast majority will continue to be honest and pay their licensing fees. " just isn't true in China and Southeast Asia...
        • While that's true

          The problem is cost of software in Asia.

          Think about it like this. Would you mortage you're OS over 10-15 years? Some people in China make less than $400 a year. Now they can get PCs relatively cheap over there seeing as they produce them. I know people who go to china regularly. They pick up stuff there dirt cheap. Like getting a digital camera for $65 that would sell here for over $1000. So it's reasonable that a PC that sells for $400 here would sell there for less than $20.

          Now consider that $20 PC to be a big investment to person in China. Maybe they saved for 5 or 6 years to get and then Microsoft asks for $200 for an OS. That's the problem there.

          So China is not a market for Microsoft if they don't want piracy.
          • The cost of anything electronic including ...

            ... digital cameras is not that cheap in China because they are considered luxury items. Your $65 for a $ 1,000 camera is way off base. Your $ 20 computer is also not the case. I know. I am in China about 6 times a year.
          • What you missed...

            While I agree with most of what you had to say, what you missed is:
            <br>1 - M$ has reduced cost windoze for the Asian market only.
            2 - Linux is quickly becoming the OS of choice in both Asia and Europe.</br>

            While in the US you don't see companies like Novell and RH marketing their products, they sure are in those markets. <br><a href="">HOIATL</br></a>
          • MS Crap

            When are people going to understand that we ourselfs have the power over microsoft.If people would not buy vista for 8-10 months it would be sending MS a message that we are just not going to take it anymore.I have XP Pro which was bought right from MS I even sent them a copy of their own reciept only to be told that i still own a bootleg copy.This has to stop & stop now,!!! Why do you think Bill Gates stepped down before befor the crap hit the fan? He knew this was wrong,and did not want to be associated with the mess that was sure to follow.
        • Yep!

          Doesn't it just kill ya! LMFAO
          Ian Sedwell
        • 80 million one key?

          i thought 80 million seemed a little staggering for one's what i found...

          "As an example, one stolen license key from a US university ended up on over a million PCs in China,? stated Alex Kochis, a licensing manager on the WGA team claiming that outside of the small number of errors, all the copies of Windows OS discovered as illegal were actually infringing in some way on Microsoft's licensing policy."


          unfortunately when your the king of the PC OS hill these things happen, basically MS can spin whatever they want with respect to how they are a victim but in they end they still resemble somewhat of a monopoly and will get very little support in their pleas as a victim...

          since the upgrade option cost for Vista resembles very much "predatory pricing" they will get even less sympathy...i find it funny how the cost of the Vista OS off the shelve is approximately 25% to 40% of a new PC....
        • Nonsense

          Why would MS share their source code with the Chinese while at the same time say that there is so much piracy in China?

          Can't be both.......somebody's foolin' somebody. Gotta laugh at that one. :D
          Spoon Jabber
      • Very fair comment

        Well spoken techboy_z.
        Ian Sedwell
      • Initially, Microsoft encouraged 'piracy' of its products to increase sales

        Remember, initially Microsoft encouraged 'piracy' of its products to increase its market share and doing so turned out to be one of the most successful marketing tricks of all time.

        During the 1980s and early 1990s Microsoft introduced schemes whereby subscribers of their magazines, Microsoft's Communiqu? for example, could 'UPGRADE' to any product WITHOUT having to show proof of purchase of a prior version. Essentially, Microsoft encouraged users to deceptively obtain its software at prices way below the product's nominal price so that it could become dominant in the market.

        For example, every month, in the center of Communiqu? Magazine, there was a double page tear-out section of thicker than normal paper for easy handling, with lists of just about every Microsoft product available. All that any subscriber had to do was to tick the boxes next to the software of his choice and fax it back to M$ along with his credit card details to obtain hugely discounted 'upgrades' of software that he'd not already previously purchased.

        As upgrades were then only 20-40% of the full product Microsoft's market penetration increased enormously. Moreover, this dishonest underhanded marketing ploy undermined sales from its main competitors such as Lotus. Also, it was a way for Microsoft to bypass the many thousands of legitimate distributors of its software who suffered due to lost retail sales on full-version software. Of course, this didn't significantly affect Microsoft's profit as the lower 'pirate' sale price from Microsoft was devoid of the distributor's margin.

        Through this ploy of offering 'unguarded' software to all and sundry, not only did Microsoft tempt software-hungry users to be dishonest but also M$ very effectively undermined and destroyed all major competition. As the old saying goes, "it takes one to know one".

        After basking in success of its bastardry: killing off competition, government regulation and becoming a monopoly, this double-dipping thief*, being now the only game in town, killed off the special 'UPGRADES'--they'd done their job admirably; then grossly inflated its software prices. Still not satisfied, it then started attacking the very cohorts who helped it rise to power--not satisfied with having amassed one of the biggest opportunistic and questionable fortunes in history, it is now trying extract every last drop of monetary blood out of poor end users by further extending its already draconian licencing conditions.

        Having been successful in locking up the vast majority of users into using its products, Microsoft is now determined to force users to use these products strictly in accordance with its directions, and remember it is using your Government's Intellectual Property Laws to allow it to do so. Not only has this monopolistic behemoth been able to force-feed users into using its technology but also it is now determined to further extend its Orwellian control over the way you users will use and handle its products into the future.

        As with all empires and dictatorships, Microsoft will eventually collapse but unfortunately, the road to that inevitability is still seemingly very long. In the meantime, Microsoft essentially will hold millions of you users to ransom, you will comply Microsoft's way, or else!

        (* M$ thieved market share away from its major competition by clever rouses and deception.)
    • Always fallible...

      If they can't get Windows bulletproof, how on earth could you possibly expect WGA to work? Sounds like a great potential virus - infect WGA and shut down all the computers in the world...
      • SkyNet?

        What was the name....? " became self aware at X time on X date.."

        Or, "What are you doing Hal?"

        Quite possibly a reasonable scenario........ :O
        Spoon Jabber
  • Good Grief

    I can honestly understand the need to validate Windows. I can really understand it. But it seems to me that MS is trying to committ suicide with what they are doing. Their tool doesn't work properly. It is telling people that have perfectly legitimate copies of Windows that they aren't genuine. And what is the MS answer to most of that: It is the End User's fault and then charge them more money. MS will not accept any blame when their crap doesn't work right. It is always the fault of someone else.
    • Self-contradiction

      [i]But it seems to me that MS is trying to committ suicide with what they are doing.[/i]

      How? Do you really think that this is going to stop Dell from preloading MS software?

      [i]Their tool doesn't work properly. It is telling people that have perfectly legitimate copies of Windows that they aren't genuine.[/i]

      You're contradicting yourself.

      [i]And what is the MS answer to most of that: It is the End User's fault and then charge them more money.[/i]

      See? It's working beautifully.

      [i]MS will not accept any blame when their crap doesn't work right. It is always the fault of someone else.[i]

      So sue them. Let me know how it turns out.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • Don't waste your time suing Microsoft...

        ...just switch to a different OS.
        Henrik Moller