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Images: WGA lurks in Windows Update

Microsoft's antipiracy tool Windows Genuine Advantage arrives unexpectedly on the PC of ZDNet's David Berlind.

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Topic: Security
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1 of 6 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

EULAs in view

Microsoft offers users four basic modes to select from when accessing the Windows Update configurator from Windows' Control Panel. In automatic mode, the download and installation take place on their own, and the opportunity to consent to or refuse specific updates comes up only in connection with the End User License Agreement (EULA) from Microsoft. ZDNet's David Berlind takes a closer look at EULAs in his blog, including the question of whether the agreement accurately communicates the intent and behavior of the software, as well as the ramifications of not accepting it.

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2 of 6 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Update list

A user who chooses to exercise control over the process sees a list of updates that have been downloaded to the PC. Each update has a name, and highlighting that name calls up a short summary of the purpose of the update and a link to further information. In this round of updates, Berlind was not able to spot whether any also included the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) software. It didn't seem to be included at first, but a later round of checks revealed that it was indeed there.

The WGA program is a precursor to the antipiracy features Microsoft is building into Windows Vista, expected in January 2007. In Vista, certain operating system features will only work as long as it is a properly licensed copy.

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3 of 6 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

WGA component sent

Going through the download-and-install process a second time, Berlind found that the update included the WGA component after all. In this screen, the Windows Genuine Advantage Validation Tool appeared to have been downloaded, initialized and installed without ever asking for user consent.

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4 of 6 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Circuitous route

Following the steps laid out by Microsoft eventually yielded word that yet another update was waiting--a "high-priority update" called "Windows Genuine Advantage Notification." The summary text: "The Windows Genuine Advantage Notification tool notifies you if your copy of Windows is not genuine. If your system is found to be non-genuine, the tool will help you obtain a licensed copy of Windows."

A few more steps lie ahead for those who want a full accounting, prompting Berlind to wonder: How many users will follow this circuitous route to figure out what this is about?

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5 of 6 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

EULA

Microsoft notes that the WGA tool is "prerelease software" in the End User License Agreement (EULA), which is displayed when WGA Notifications is about to be installed. People can decline the download at that point. Berlind says that most people click on the license "accept" button without paying any attention to it.

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6 of 6 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Once you're done

This is all the user sees once the updates are done. Berlind suggests that this would be a good place for Microsoft to offer more details and functionality--for instance, listing the updates in some clickable fashion so users can get more information about what they've just done to their computers and perhaps a way to undo specific updates.

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