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update...check the info and fixes here:







:rolleyes: Apparently the programmers of the Windows Product Activation did not work carefully enough. In the course of our experiments with several hardware components, product keys and especially the central file wpa.dbl some interesting weak points showed up. Together with peculiarities in generating the id of the hardware this will open the way for hackers to avoid the Activation completely.

Two fields are coded with three bits and two with seven bits. Because in each field the coefficient 0 is impossible, 7*7*127*127=790321 possibilities remain for the file wpa.dbl. As only three components are allowed to change from the moment of Activation onwards, you can take the weakest fixed component for a "Universal Activation".

The CPU type or the RAM size present themselves here as the best solution. It is more than sufficient to only once activate a computer with 128 MBytes of RAM at Microsoft's. With its file wpa.dbl you can then "activate" all other computers of the same memory size.


With its technology of Activation Microsoft wants to thwart the user who occasionally copies software. Up to a certain degree this may still work. But by means of the above described steps nearly everybody can activate his own XP merely by getting a corresponding wpa.dbl file. There certainly will exist some web sites in the near future where the user can comfortably download "his"wpa.dbl.



>> Frequently asked questions and their answers

>> concerning the Fully Licensed WPA paper


>> Fully Licensed GmbH, July 10, 2001


>> 1. Was Microsoft involved in the creation of the paper?

Microsoft was not involved in the creation of the paper in any

way. However, we made a draft version available to Microsoft to give

them a head-start. We consider it to be good etiquette to inform a

vendor of a pending publication related to one his or her products, so

that the vendor is able to prepare an official response.

>> 2. Why should we believe you?

We do not expect you to believe us. That's why we have provided our

complete knowledge about WPA and the XPDec utility. Combine both to

verify our claims.

>> 3. But Thomas Lopatic, one of your managing directors was born in

Unterschleissheim, Germany, which is the town near Munich in

which Microsoft's European headquarters are located.

This is a nice coincidence. It is in a way understandable - and at the

same time highly amusing to us :-) - that this has given rise to

rumors about the whole paper being a cleverly planned Microsoft


Thomas was actually born in Karlsruhe, Germany. However, he was living

in Unterschleissheim from the 1970s - i.e. long before Microsoft moved

there - until recently, when he moved to Berlin. That's why some

records still list Unterschleissheim as the place where he

lives. Incorrectly interpreting these records led to the rumor that

Thomas was born in Unterschleissheim.

>> 4. Does Microsoft downplay the paper?

No, most definitely not. The paper really IS harmless. It does not

provide any information that would help a pirate circumvent WPA.

>> 5. Why did you release details on Windows Product Activation?

We felt that there is a need for facts in the debate about Windows

Product Activation. Many people suspected that WPA could be abused to

spy on end-users. Our paper, however, shows that insensitive

information is transmitted during product activation. From this, it

can be seen that the facts that we provide really are a necessary

contribution to the ongoing discussion about WPA.

We think that license enforcement mechanisms will be an important part

of the future of software distribution via the Internet. Thus, we do

think that public discussion of technology of this kind must be free

from bias and it must be based on facts and openness.

We hope that the information that we provide positively affects the

current debate. The debate is necessary, but it should be based on

facts and full disclosure of information relevant to the privacy


>> 6. Do you know how to circumvent Windows Product Activation?

No. We provide insight into which information is transmitted to

Microsoft during activation. Our paper is important to help people

understand the impact of WPA on their work and their privacy. We do

not believe that our paper helps in any way to circumvent the license

enforcement provided by WPA.

>> 7. Your paper says that Microsoft will err on the user's side.

What our paper shows is that a) no sensitive information is

transferred to Microsoft and :D typical hardware upgrades do not

negatively affect an already activated installation of Windows XP.

But, if you either completely re-install Windows XP or modify your

hardware beyond what is tolerated by product activation, you have to

re-activate Windows XP.

The important question now is: How often will Microsoft let you

re-activate? Erring on the user's side would mean that they allow you

to re-activate as often as you like, which seems to be what Microsoft

says they will do.

It is, however, impossible to confirm this policy by means of a

technical analysis.

>> 8. Why doesn't Microsoft know which hardware I use?

Let us consider the case of IDE controllers. In the installation ID

transmitted to Microsoft they are represented by a 4-bit value. The 4

bits are obtained by applying the MD5 message digest algorithm to a

string that uniquely identifies the vendor and model of the IDE

controller, e.g.


and picking 4 bits from fixed locations in the resulting 128-bit

message digest.

With 4 bits, we can represent 16 different values at maximum. However,

there are far more than 16 different models of IDE controllers out

there. So, since there are more models than 4-bit values, the above

hashing procedure must yield the same 4 bits for more than one

model. The more models there are, the more models will map to a given

4-bit value.

In contrast to what Microsoft says, the privacy that WPA provides is

not based on the assumption that it is impossible to invert the

employed message digest algorithm, i.e. MD5. If we used all 128 bits

of the message digest derived from a hardware component's

identification string, this 128-bit value would most probably uniquely

identify the hardware component. If we used 128 bits, each hardware

component on earth would probably map to a different value.

What an attacker would then do is build a list of all hardware

components on this planet and calculate the corresponding 128-bit

values, which are probably all different. Then finding the hardware

component that corresponds to a certain 128-bit value is just a table

lookup away.

Privacy is based on the fact that only a few bits of the resulting

128-bit message digest are considered. Obviously this leads to lots of

collisions, i.e. lots of hardware components mapping to a given

value. If there were 160 different models of IDE controllers, we could

on average expect 160 / 16 = 10 models to map to the same 4-bit value.

Let us, as another example, consider the MAC address of an ethernet

adapter. The discussion is technically not 100% accurate, but it

illustrates the point. The MAC address is a 48-bit value, which means

that it can theoretically be one of 281,474,976,710,656 different

values. However, its 10-bit representation in the Installation ID is

obtained by picking 10 bits from the MD5 hash over an ASCII string

comprised of the 12 hex digits of the 48-bit value. Picking 10 bits

leads to 1,024 different results at maximum.

So, on average, we expect

281,474,976,710,656 / 1,024 = 274,877,906,944

MAC addresses to map to the same 10-bit value. Because of this, nobody

will be able to obtain the actual MAC address from the 10-bit value,

since there are 274,877,906,944 candidate MAC addresses from which the

10-bit value could have been derived.

It is interesting to see that the bit-field that represents the MAC

address is 10 bits in size, while the bit-field representing the IDE

controller only consists of 4 bits. Microsoft probably have assigned a

longer bit-field to a component if they expect more diversity in the

identification string of this component. The number of different IDE

controller models is smaller by orders of magnitude than the number of

different MAC addresses. So, to produce sufficient collisions, they

decided to use a relatively small bit-field for IDE controllers but

could still afford to chose a 10-bit bit-field in the case of MAC


>> 9. What are the implications of re-activating after hardware


This is an interesting issue which is not covered in our paper. We

simply did not think of it. Our mistake. It was brought to our

attention by an article by Greg Falcon <veloso@verylowsodium.com> on

www.slashdot.org: If you have to re-activate your installation of

Windows XP because of hardware modifications, your new hardware

configuration is embedded in the Installation ID in the form discussed

above. While this does not enable anyone to find out which components

you have, it is trivial to find out which components you have

changed. Just examine which bit-fields have changed their value since

the original activation.


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An interesting read, but an old one, July 2001. Kind of long. Maybe a text attachment next time or just a brief synopsis and a link to the article. I believe the same article was posted on MSFN a long time ago, but can't be sure. You may want to use our search feature when the articles are this old.

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:) Many thanks...it was all a senseless, time wasting

experience as it was easier to just buy the retail version

which, as it turns out, is a great deal :rolleyes:

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