Windows Genuine Advantage Now at a Disadvantage

Microsoft's anti-piracy tool, Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), was recently found to be regularly contacting Microsoft without informing the user that such contact was taking place.

Privacy advocate Lauren Weinstein reported the issue in her blog on June 5, 2006 and the story quickly spread across the Internet and into mainstream news channels. Weinstein discovered that WGA would attempt to contact Microsoft each time the computer was booted and daily if the computer was left running and not rebooted each day.

On June 8, 2006 Microsoft announced that it had modified the latest version of WGA to only contact the company's servers once every two weeks. Nevertheless, a third-party has stepped in to prevent WGA from regularly contacting Microsoft's servers.

Firewall Leak Test, a site known for its testing of firewalls, published the RemoveWGA tool this month. RemoveWGA allows WGA to perform normal Windows validation to ensure a copy of Windows is not pirated version, but the tool then prevents WGA from contacting Microsoft at regular intervals by removing the notification components that are part of the WGA installation package.

In July 2005 WGA became manditory in order to download some types of software and updates from Microsoft's Web site. In April 2006 the company launched an Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) pilot program for its Microsoft Office suite.

The RemoveWGA Web page states that "the validation part \[of WGA\] is mandatory for some \[none-critical\] downloads from Microsoft, but the notification part \[of WGA\] is not mandatory at all, and you are able to install all of the security updates without \[using the notification feature\]."

Microsoft announced on June 27 that it had completed its pilot for WGA. The company will now begin a phased rollout of the tool to Windows XP users worldwide. The company also stated that it had modified the End User License Agreement (EULA) for WGA and has made available a set of instructions for removing previous versions of WGA Notifications from affected computers.

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