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Windows Genuine Meltdown

When the servers behind the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation software stumbled last weekend, users suddenly found their legitimate copies of Windows XP and Vista flagged as invalid and pirated. For Vista owners, that dropped their copies of the operating system into reduced functionality mode.

It took Microsoft until about mid-afternoon on Sunday to get WGA running correctly again. Microsoft Program Manager Phil Liu blogged about the issue and its resolution here.

The cause of the problem? You guessed it. Simple human error.

"Pre-production code was sent to production servers," Liu writes. "The production servers had not yet been upgraded with a recent change to enable stronger encryption/decryption of product keys during the activation and validation processes. The result of this is that the production servers declined activation and validation requests that should have passed."

Let this be a lesson. Even the largest, most well-funded software development efforts can fall victim to something as trivial as deploying non-production code. What's interesting is that Microsoft had designed its WGA service so that if the servers were down or inaccessible, Windows continues to run in validated mode. In this case, however, the servers were running, albeit improperly.

Liu says changes have already occurred in the aftermath of this embarrassing gaffe: "We have implemented several changes to address the specific issues that took place over the weekend -- for example we are improving our monitoring capabilities to alert us much sooner should anything like this happen again. We're also working through a list of additional changes such as increasing the speed of escalations and adding checkpoints before changes can be made to production servers."

What do you think of Microsoft's genuine faux pas? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 08/29/2007

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