SOFTWARE MONOPOLIST Microsoft's Windows 7 Activation Technologies (WAT) feature intended to combat unauthorised copies of the OS will contact Microsoft every 90 days to keep you in line.
According to this blog post, the Vole developed the WAT update to prevent what it calls "activation exploits" and "will detect more than 70 known and potentially dangerous activation exploits. Activation exploits are sometimes called 'hacks', and attempt to bypass or compromise Windows' activation technologies."
To overcome those exploits, the Vole has engineered a periodic validation that enables Microsoft to inspect your computer. Microsoft says, "The Update will run periodic validations (initially every 90 days). During validation, Windows will download the latest ‘signatures' that are used to identify new activation exploits - much like an anti-virus service. When tampering, disabling, or missing licensing files are discovered, the WAT Update runs a check and repair weekly to ensure that the licensing files are properly repaired."
Most users will probably download this Volish spyware using Microsoft's auto-update without realising it, but it is voluntary so you might want to make sure that you track exactly what you're downloading through Windows Update and turn this one off.
If Microsoft does think you have a dodgy version of Windows 7 it will ping out irritating notifications by "displaying informational dialog boxes with options for the customer to either get more information, or acquire genuine Windows."
The WAT validation doesn't stop there. Even if you are running a legitimately purchased copy of Windows, your system will check-in to make sure there's no funny stuff going on. If there is, you will be downgraded to non-genuine status, your background wallpaper will default to black and you will have to prove to Microsoft that your copy is genuine or buy another one.
While Microsoft intends to roll out this WAT update snooping program in most parts of the world by the end of February, it won't be pushing it in China until summer. Quite why Microsoft is delaying the rollout of this update in the Middle Kingdom remains unclear given that China is the country with the highest rate of counterfeit and hacked versions of the Vole's software.
It might be Microsoft's idea of a diplomatic approach following China's censorship problems with Google, to demonstrate that the company is willing to be flexible in its approach to its Asian customers. µ
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