Security Watch

Is 'Genuine Windows Validation' a Good Thing?

Microsoft's latest attempt to curb piracy restricts security patches to only owners of genuine copies of Windows.

Hacking
Microsoft announced it will require "genuine Windows validation" in mid-2005 for anyone running Windows XP or Windows 2000 Professional who attempts to download security patches manually. Users of other operating systems, and those who obtain security patches automatically via enabling Automatic Updates, will be exempt for now. "Genuine Windows validation" involves determining whether or not the operating system has been purchased legally or not. The process, similar to Windows Activation, does not require the consumer to divulge private information to Microsoft.

Some of the media coverage about this speculates that preventing illegal copies of Windows from obtaining patches is going to make for a huge number of compromised systems. This idea is, to say the least, hilarious. It makes the assumption that someone running an illegal copy is more likely to get patches via manual downloads than Automatic Updates. I don't think so!

The problem is that most people don't get any updates at all, whether their installation is legal or not. I see no reason that Microsoft's shareholders should continue to allow illegal copies of Windows to run at all, but no doubt a large number of people who have such copies installed don't even know they've got an illegal OS in the first place. They got it when they bought a cheap PC, or purchased the OS separately from a store that had bogus stock.

No doubt eventually Microsoft will make "genuine Windows validation" mandatory for all security updates, and no doubt there are some who fear that eventuality also. My response to that concern is equally simple—get a legal copy before it happens. If withholding security updates makes for greater compliance with the law, then so be it.

The U.S. Department of Energy apparently accidentally published confidential Homeland Security documents marked "For Official Use Only," and the documents remain visible via Google's Web cache.

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Please be sure you've created a properly configured robots.txt file on your Web servers. While it won't prevent confidential documents from being placed on a publicly available server, it is at least one way to prevent such documents from being available in Google's Web cache from now until eternity.

Denial of Service
Cisco IOS has been found to have several vulnerabilities, including:

  • IPv6 Packet Denial of Service
  • Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) Denial of Service
  • Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) Denial of Service

Analysis suggests that the IPv6 and BGP vulnerabilities are highly unlikely to ever be exploited. The MPLS vulnerability does have some potential for attacks, but a MPLS vulnerability last year did not result in attacks.

Malicious Code
The volume of malware variants has significantly increased this month, with more than 2,000 different samples being provided to Wildlist. Despite this increase, nothing appears to be gaining "legs," or spreading significantly.

Human Factors
A new survey by the London's Licensed Taxi Drivers Association reported that almost 5,000 laptops and more than 60,000 mobile phones were left in London's black cabs by passengers over the last six months. Compare this with an August 2001 report for the same area which indicated that 2,900 laptops and 1,300 PDAs were left in the six months prior.

While typically such items are stolen purely for their resale value, one can only imagine the quantity of sensitive and confidential information they contained.

About the Author

Russ Cooper is a senior information security analyst with Verizon Business, Inc. He's also founder and editor of NTBugtraq, www.ntbugtraq.com, one of the industry's most influential mailing lists dedicated to Microsoft security. One of the world's most-recognized security experts, he's often quoted by major media outlets on security issues.

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