It's official: Pirates crack Vista at last

4th March 2007

James Bannan

A genuine crack for Windows Vista has just been released by pirate group Pantheon, which allows a pirated, non-activated installation of Vista (Home Basic/Premium and Ultimate) to be properly activated and made fully-operational.

Unlike cracks which have been floating around since Vista RTM was released in late November, this crack doesn’t simply get around product activation with beta activation files or timestop cracks - it actually makes use of the activation process. It seems that Microsoft has allowed large OEMs like ASUS to ship their products with a pre-installed version of Vista that doesn’t require product activation – apparently because end users would find it too inconvenient.

This version of Vista uses System-Locked Pre-Installation 2.0 (SLP 2.0). It allows the “Royalty OEMs” to embed specific licensing information into the operating system which Vista can activate without having to go back to Microsoft for verification. The licensing components include the OEM’s hardware-embedded BIOS ACPI_SLIC (which has been signed by Microsoft), an XML certificate file which corresponds to this ACPI_SLIC and a specific OEM product key.

Pantheon released a bundle which includes the certificate files from ASUS, Dell, HP and Lenovo along with OEM product keys for Vista Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate, and an emulator which allows the BIOS ACPI_SLIC driver for any manufacturer to be installed without requiring the system to be physically running that hardware. For example, you can install the ASUS certificate information on any machine, not just an ASUS.

And yes, the crack most certainly works. You end up with an activated, legitimate copy of Vista which passes all the Windows Genuine Advantage checks.

The release of this crack does make a bit of a mockery of the whole volume activation process. I was beginning to think the new activation process introduced with Vista might spell the end of easy and large-scale Windows piracy, and if the only way to activate Vista was to have it communicate directly with Microsoft, then that just might have been a possibility. But allowing such a workaround to OEMs just because their users might not like it has introduced a weakness into the system. Pirate groups are well known for exploiting any weakness no matter how small (as evidenced by the cracking of KMS), so once this activation process became known it was only a matter of time.

As the crack is tied to specific product keys, it remains to be seen whether Microsoft will be able to do anything about shutting out machines activated using this method. But their work will be made much more difficult now that such machines have completely bypassed the online activation process, and are connecting as legitimate copies of Windows.

main page ATTRITION feedback