Accidents Happen And Now Microsoft Is Paying The Price
November 21, 2012

Microsoft Accidentally Gives Copies Of Windows 8 Pro Away For Free

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Microsoft is either feeling the holiday cheer or has made a gross oversight in one of their promotions.

According to VentureBeat, Microsoft left the keys to a free version of Windows 8 Pro just lying around the Internet and now pirates have begun to take their plunder.

The Redmond company announced in October they´d be giving away free copies of Windows 8 Media Center to any customer who purchases Windows 8 by January 31st. Many Media Center enthusiasts became miffed when Microsoft announced these users would have to purchase this software separately if they wanted to record TV, watch DVDs or take advantage of any other Windows Media Center´s features. Thanks to this new promotion, anyone who has ponied up the money for Windows 8 in between its launch and the end of January can download this software for free.

This is where Microsoft´s oversight could end up hurting them.

Pirates have been downloading illegal copies of Windows 8 Pro for months now. In order to get around the authentication process, these pirates would use a Key Management Service to generate a key which would activate the service for 180 days.

Normally, KMS is used to allow corporate IT workers to activate several copies of an OS on a local network, saving them the trouble of having to make each computer respond to Microsoft´s servers for authentication. Pirates now use these KMS to work around these servers.

With the use of these third-party KMS, pirates were able to activate their illegally downloaded copies of Windows 8 Pro, but they´d also have to enter in a new code every 6 months.

As often happens, some pirates on Reddit first noticed this flaw in Microsoft´s system. As it stands, anyone can download a pirated version of Windows 8 Pro, temporarily activate it by use of a KMS, then head over to download the free Media Center upgrade. Once this upgrade is downloaded, Microsoft turns the pirated copy of Windows 8 Pro into a fully operational, legit version of the operating system, without having to type in a new key every 6 months.

As described by a user on Reddit: “As long as the system is activated, even if it is activated with KMS [Key Management Service], it will take the key and apply the upgrade. Since the WMC key comes directly from Microsoft and is unique for each user, it activates Windows 8 Pro permanently. Oops!

Several Web sites have verified that this little hack works, including The Verge, Windows Wave and several Reddit users.

Microsoft is clearly losing money on this deal, though several Reddit users have also been quick to point out as long as they´re stealing Microsoft´s software, the company should be happy. Bill Gates even once said something to this effect.

Whenever something like this happens on the Internet, you can bet Reddit will be some of the first to take notice and take advantage. In October, a similar blunder allowed EA gamers to download several $20 titles from their online store. The vulnerability quickly made its way across Reddit and soon, many users were downloading their pick of 44 available games. This hole was wide open for at least 18 hours, causing EA to lose an unknown amount of money.