Above all else, Microsoft is launching the update in an effort to discern whether Windows 7 installed on a PC is authentic or pirated. The antipiracy upgrade, known as Windows Activation Technologies Update for Windows 7, will detect more than 70 dangerous exploits, or hacks, executed by some users to install unlicensed software that bypasses Windows activation and security technologies.
The voluntary antipiracy update will be available Feb. 16 at Microsoft.com/genuine and Feb. 17 at the Microsoft Download Center. The update will also be offered to the public later this month as an "Important" update.
The new Windows Activation Technologies is designed to run on all versions of Windows 7, although Microsoft will initially offer the update to Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise editions.
"The update will determine whether Windows 7 installed on a PC is genuine and will better protect customers PCs by making sure that the integrity of key licensing components remains intact," said Joe Williams, general manager of Microsoft's Genuine Windows unit, in a blog post Thursday.
The upgrade represents Microsoft's concerted effort to put a kibosh on rising piracy rates and control malware distribution.
Microsoft says its intentions are to keep users safer on the Internet, maintaining that pirated software is unpredictable and often contains malicious software that has the potential to compromise users' PCs and steal data. Unlike licensed software that is backed by vendor support, pirated versions can't access vender-supported security functions, such as scans and updates.
"Searching for, downloading, or installing activation exploits or counterfeit software on the Internet is risky, because sites that advertise these pirated products often contain malware, viruses and Trojans, which are found bundled with or directly built into the activation exploit or counterfeit software," Williams said.
Microsoft also contended that although the update contacts Microsoft's servers to check for new threats, no personally identifying information is sent to the company from the users' PCs.
Once installed, the antipiracy update scans for activation exploits. If one is detected, Windows will alert the customer and offer options to resolve the issue. The update also runs security validations every 90 days that downloads the latest signatures used to identify new exploits. When malicious software is detected, the WAT update launches a fix to repair the licensed files.
If the copy of Windows 7 is found to be pirated, the user will be informed that they are running a non-genuine copy accompanied by options to pursue more information or buy an authentic copy. The user's wallpaper will then turn to a plain desktop along with a permanent watermark labeling the OS as non-genuine. They will also be bombarded with "periodic reminders" to install a licensed copy of Windows 7.