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Judge protects Microsoft's WGA secrets

Antipiracy technology protected from hackers

A federal judge has granted Microsoft's request to keep secret details of its Windows antipiracy technology after the company claimed hackers could exploit the information if it were made public.

US District Court Judge Richard Jones last week granted Microsoft's motion that some documents be sealed in a two-year-old lawsuit that accuses the company of misleading customers when it updated its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) antipiracy software via its Windows Update service.

In a deposition filed with Jones three weeks ago, Alex Kochis, the director of Microsoft's Genuine Windows group, said that revealing sensitive sections of the WGA software development kit (SDK) would give hackers a field day.

"Public release of the WGA SDK Integration Specifications information would allow hackers to defeat the WGA Validation function by causing WGA to generate false results indicating that the system being tested is genuine, thereby creating great risk of harm to both Microsoft and users of Microsoft's software," Kochis asserted.

By deciphering WGA's error codes and its test protocols, attackers would be able to sidestep the validation process that the technology uses to determine whether a copy of Windows is legitimate, Kochis said.

In turn, that would put users in danger, he said. "Windows XP users would be at risk because pirated copies of Windows XP often contain unauthorised software that pirates have added to copies of Windows XP that can lead to a corrupted system, a loss of data, or even identity theft," Kochis said.

WGA has a chequered history, and has often met with resistance from Windows users. In June 2006 it pushed a version of WGA to XP users via Windows Update by tagging it as a ‘high priority' update that was automatically downloaded and installed to most machines. That event is the one at the centre of the current lawsuit.

A year later, a day-long server outage riled thousands of users who were mistakenly fingered for running counterfeit copies of Windows.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, has not yet been scheduled for trial.

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