WGA: better, but still not good enough

Scott dunn By Scott Dunn

When it was first released, Microsoft’s Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) was widely criticized for spyware-like qualities and numerous false positives.

Since then, Microsoft has given its anticopying program a number of changes, but they’re not enough to give this tool a positive reputation.

The way that WGA works today

Microsoft bills Windows Genuine Advantage as a way to let customers avoid the security risks of malware-laden counterfeits. WGA is supposed to detect whether a user’s copy of Windows is counterfeit and, if it is, tell the user how to obtain a genuine copy.

WGA affects users of both Vista and XP. The impact is potentially greater on Vista, where a copy found not to be genuine has certain features disabled, including the Aero interface, Windows ReadyBoost, and portions of Windows Defender. WGA is unavoidable in Vista, since the technology is built into Windows itself.

In Windows XP, failure to be validated by WGA means users cannot download some content (such as optional updates) from Microsoft. In addition, XP users may be treated to alerts complaining that their version of Windows is not genuine, and advising them how to correct the situation. However, unlike Vista users, XP customers may be able to avoid WGA by watching what they install on their systems.

Windows Genuine Advantage has two components, validation (which checks for an authentic licensed version) and notifications (the software that alerts you if you fail validation). In XP, the two are separate downloads.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2007-11-29: