By Mark Rasch, SecurityFocus
Published Tuesday 18th January 2005 12:49 GMTOpinion
With Microsoft's acquisition of anti-spyware maker Giant Software, the company seems well-poised to enter the anti-spyware and anti-virus marketplace. At the very least, in combination with its well-publicized secure computing initiative, and the security upgrades in Windows XP Service Pack 2, Microsoft appears to be taking security more seriously ...
Or, the company may simply be using its new anti-spyware technology as a ruse for rooting out and eventually destroying unlicensed copies of its operating system.
Early last month Microsoft announced that it would permit downloads of a beta version of its anti-spyware software from its website. However, users attempting to download the software are informed that "[t]his download is available to customers running genuine Microsoft Windows. Please click Continue to begin Windows validation." The website then uploads an executable file called "GenuineCheck.exe" to the users computer.
The executable presumably scans the OS for the license key, and generates a key code that the user is directed to send to Microsoft. If the key code is for an unlicensed version of the OS, the user is directed to purchase the software online, and is denied the opportunity to download the anti-spyware software.
While I am extremely sympathetic to the needs of software companies to fight the multi-billion dollar problem of copyright infringement, I think it is a bad idea to use security as the hook to do so. The same issue came up when Microsoft denied Service Pack 2 to some unlicensed Windows XP users. This can be the electronic equivalent of automatically disengaging the brakes on stolen cars - sure it will reduce automobile theft (and the sale of stolen vehicles), but at the cost of making everyone less safe.