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Friday, December 15, 2006
Vista Security Update Fights "Frankenbuild" Monster

Microsoft has released an update to Windows Vista that is designed to prevent a type of piracy of the operating system in which files from various test and final versions of the software have been mixed so as to bypass the product activation technology.

Dubbed "Frankenbuild" monster, the workaround involves cobbling together files from a Vista Release Candidate build with the build that was released to manufacturing in November, to create a hybrid that bypasses activation.

While Vista has only been released to businesses with a volume license, the software is set to be released to consumers on Jan. 30.

But copies of the operating system are already circulating on the Internet, where hackers are trying to bypass its built-in security and product activation technologies.

This week, Microsoft released an update, which detects tampering of Windows Vista by mixing files from various test and final versions of the software in order to work around licensing mechanisms. The update will use the new Windows Update client in Vista to make the "Frankenbuild" systems to go through a genuine validation check. When detected, these unauthorized copies will be given a 30-day grace period, where features like the new Aero user interface and ReadyBoost are no longer available to them, and their use of the operating system is limited to one hour with a default Web browser. After the 30-day grace period, pirated copies they will be placed into a reduced functionality mode.

This week?s update will only affect systems that are running a specific binary-tampered version of Windows Vista, Microsoft said in a statement.

"These systems will fail that check because we have blocked the Release Candidate [product] keys for systems not authorized to use them. In other words, the wrong key is being used. The systems will then be flagged as non-genuine systems," the company said in a blog posting on the Windows Genuine Advantage site.

However, users of these tampered systems will still have access to all their data.

"A user can always boot their PC into what is called Safe Mode. Safe Mode is a mode of using Windows that has limited driver, display and networking support?but allows a user access to all their files," the company said.

But Microsoft also pointed out that the Frankenbuild workaround is far from the only one that the company has seen over the past few weeks. Another workaround involves the use of some virtualization technology and Key Management Services, practices used for activating larger business customers, the blog post said, adding that "pirating Windows Vista will have real consequences and will, in turn, encourage people to check before they buy."

The Redmond, Wash., software maker also warned in a statement that if further illegal workarounds or other examples of counterfeit Windows Vista code were posted to the Internet or became available through other means, "Microsoft may take additional steps to stop the spread and use of counterfeit versions of Windows Vista by releasing updates to the software, and then distributing the updates using various mechanisms, which may include and/or Windows Update."

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