A small wrinkle for Windows authentication

A new program by Microsoft to verify the authenticity of Windows-based desktops seeking to download updates should be a snap for most enterprise customers, with one "key" exception.

The vast majority of enterprise administrators with volume licenses for Windows XP will likely have no trouble as

We have no interest in preventing anyone from receiving updates, particularly security updates …


David Lazar, Microsoft's director of Genuine Windows

,
Microsoft starts checking their software for authenticity later this summer under the Windows Genuine Advantage program.

But any IT administrator using a license key generator for convenience may be taking a risk if, for some reason, the key isn't recognized and the administrator doesn't have handy access to the correct volume license key information.

"We've heard of some cases where people use a key generator for convenience," said David Lazar, director of Genuine Windows in Microsoft's Windows client organization. "The message for that small group is to make sure their PCs have Automatic Updates turned on."

Automatic Updates available to all

For the most part, the program, which was unveiled in late January to combat software piracy, is aimed at consumers and small business customers using Windows XP.

All customers will still be able to get security updates using the Automatic Updates feature. Only

For more information

Learn more on the topic of software licensing

 

Checklist: Effective software license management

the Windows Update service and the Windows Download Center will require the validation.

"We have no interest in preventing anyone from receiving updates, particularly security updates, but at the same time, we want to make sure we are providing a better experience for genuine customers," Lazar said. "Windows Update is a premium service that can scan your system and update everything in one fell swoop."

Lazar said the system is engineered to recognize volume license keys and if the key is not blocked because it is on a list of bad license keys, then downloads will be distributed.

In the case of a home user that connects to a network in an IT organization, now is a good time to educate those workers about best practices for protecting their PCs.

Home users present a challenge to IT

IT managers generally have their work cut out for them when it comes to protecting home users. They've seen the perimeter of their networks grow from whatever was in the building, to LANs and WANs, and now their users are coming into the building using home PCs and wireless devices through a VPN.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers in Greenwood Village, Colo., is just one example of a company where end users often work from home on their own PCs. Many of the available tools are not necessarily mature enough to validate everything that connects from the outside, said Bill Randall, director of MIS infrastructure at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers.

In most cases, there is no way for an IT manager to know whether or not a user's machine is up to snuff. "It puts more of a burden on us to validate that the machines are up to date and secure and legal," Randall said.

Many IT executives are fine with the system as long as the verification method is painless. "I don't see it as a problem from the side of law and order -- you own the product or you don't," said Scott Saunders, director of systems technology at Paxson Communications Corp., a West Palm Beach, Fla., broadcast network.

"I don't care about the operative method, as long as it runs in a way that makes it easy to verify," Saunders said.

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