How Genuine Advantage Notifications Work

Genuine Advantage Notifications can validate if Microsoft XP and other Microsoft programs are real.
Genuine Advantage Notifications can validate if Microsoft XP and other Microsoft programs are real.
Microsoft product screen shot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

Software piracy is big business. In July 2007, Chinese intelligence authorities brought down what's believed to be the largest counterfeit software syndicate in the world [source: Microsoft]. The illegal operation had sold more than $2 billion worth of fake software, particularly Microsoft products like Windows Vista, Microsoft Office 2007, Windows XP and Windows Server. With information from Microsoft and the FBI, Chinese investigators were able to track down the counterfeiters, whose products had been shipped to 27 different countries in eight different languages.

Microsoft credits much of the success of the China bust to its anti-piracy system called Microsoft Genuine Advantage (MGA). As part of this system, Microsoft customers can download a small program called Genuine Advantage Notifications (GAN) that validates whether a copy of Windows XP is legitimate. According to Microsoft, tens of thousands of consumers used GAN to find out that their operating system software was fake, and over 1,000 of those piracy victims sent Microsoft hard copies of their software for analysis. Clues from these discs helped authorities track the counterfeiting syndicate to China.

According to Microsoft, pirated Windows software is not only inferior to the original, but it can be dangerous for your computer. Pirated software can be bundled with spyware, viruses and other malware that can surrender your private information or turn your machine into an unwitting spambot. By validating your software with Windows Genuine Advantage, says Microsoft, you have the peace of mind of knowing that your operating system is backed by Microsoft, and that you'll receive all pertinent security updates and upgrades as they're made available.

Microsoft promises that the GAN software doesn't collect any personal information beyond your general location (city, state, country), your computer make and model, operating system and software product key. Microsoft isn't looking to punish individual users -- many of whom bought what they thought to be legitimate copies of Windows software -- but to collect information that helps them track down the criminal operations that manufacture and sell the fakes.

Microsoft has more than its fair share of critics, and they've all pounced on Genuine Advantage Notifications. They say GAN wrongly identifies real software as fake and then bombards users with warning messages that are impossible to stop. They also say that GAN is misleadingly packaged as a critical security update. But Microsoft is pushing forward with GAN, calling it an essential tool in the fight against software piracy.

So how do you install -- and perhaps more importantly -- uninstall Genuine Advantage Notifications? And what else are the critics saying? Read on to find out.

Installing Genuine Advantage Notifications

Microsoft originally placed  GAN under its security shield.
Microsoft originally placed  GAN under its security shield.
Microsoft product screen shot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

To begin installing Genuine Advantage Notifications, first you have to download the installation software. Microsoft has added Genuine Advantage Notifications to its Windows Update and Microsoft Update services. Both of these services notify a Windows user when there are security or other updates available for their Microsoft software. Windows Update is built into Windows XP and Vista and offers updates for the operating system. Microsoft Update is an optional service that provides security updates for all other Microsoft products like Office and Outlook.

You can also follow this link to download Genuine Advantage Notifications directly from Microsoft's official Download Center. Once you've downloaded the small, 1.3 MB (Megabyte) file, an installation wizard will walk you through the rest of the process:

  1. The wizard introduces Genuine Windows Notifications and explains that if your copy of Windows software isn't genuine, you'll receive periodic notifications on how to correct the situation.
  2. You're asked to read the terms and conditions and privacy statement of Genuine Advantage Notifications. You can click "I Do Not Agree" or "I Agree" and choose to print the documents.
  3. If your software is genuine, you'll receive confirmation immediately. The wizard explains that the program may run periodically to re-validate the operating system software.
  4. Sometimes, says Microsoft, the validation cannot be completed due to a system or network error. In this case, you can wait until the next notification to try again.
  5. If your software fails the validation process, you can see if you qualify to receive a free replacement copy of Windows software. This is reserved for victims who purchased high-quality fake copies. Or you can purchase a genuine Windows XP product key to immediately resolve the issue.
  6. If you believe your system was wrongfully diagnosed as fake, you can contact Microsoft for further troubleshooting assistance.

Now let's hear what the critics are saying about Microsoft's anti-piracy system.

Criticisms of Genuine Advantage Notifications

Genuine Advantage Notification can be found in the Microsoft Update services.
Genuine Advantage Notification can be found in the Microsoft Update services.
Microsoft product screen shot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

The first criticism of Genuine Advantage Notifications involves software distribution. Critics are angered that Microsoft included the GAN software as a Critical Update, something they believe should be reserved for security issues only. Since GAN was listed as a Critical Update, many people downloaded it without fully understanding what it meant. What's worse, many Windows XP users have signed up for something called Automatic Update that automatically downloads security updates via the Windows Update service. Critics say Microsoft broke a sacred security trust with users by sneaking the GAN software through the back door [source: ZDNet].

Microsoft argues that GAN qualifies as a security issue since pirated software can be dangerous for computers. Still, the company decided to remove GAN as a security update and list it only as a "high priority" update [source: Techblog]. However, GAN is still included as part of the Automatic Update service.

Some critics dislike the way the Windows Genuine Advantage system "phones home" to Microsoft with information about a user without the user's consent [source: ZDNet]. More specifically, the system only asks for the user's consent once information has already been collected. This is because the WGA system is a two-part process: validation and notification. No consent is required to run the software validation, which collects information and sends it back to Microsoft. Consent is required, however, to send notifications, which don't collect information. Critics say that Microsoft should ask for consent for both steps of the process [source: ZDNet].

But perhaps the most important criticism of Genuine Advantage Updates is that it just doesn't work [source: ZDNet]. Far too often, say the critics, the system targets perfectly legitimate software as fake. A lot of the false negatives appear to plague users who have returned laptops to the manufacturer for service. Something in the servicing process renders it difficult for the GAN software to identify the operating system software as legitimate.

Then the wrongly identified users are subjected to repeated, annoying messages reminding them that their copy of Windows XP is counterfeit and that they should take action to correct it. Critics say that Microsoft needs to offer better solutions beyond buying another copy of Windows XP or spending hours on a tech support hotline [source: ZDNet].

A final criticism of Genuine Advantage Notifications is that the software has been notoriously difficult to uninstall. Microsoft issued an update in late 2007 that made the process a little easier. Read on to find out how to remove Genuine Advantage Notifications from your system.

Removal of Genuine Advantage Notifications

Like other validation programs, genuine advantage notifications makes sure the product is authentic.
Like other validation programs, genuine advantage notifications makes sure the product is authentic.
Microsoft product screen shot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

Due to the negative feedback it received from critics and customers, Microsoft decided to issue a new version of Genuine Advantage Notifications and offer instructions on how to disable or remove the software's pilot version. The easiest way to remove the pilot version, says Microsoft, is to download the new version, which automatically uninstalls any previous versions. But if you don't want to install the new version, you can disable or remove the pilot version manually.

First, you need to figure out if you have the pilot version of the GAN software. The version numbers of the pilot software range from 1.5.0527.0 to 1.5.0532.2. Here's how you can find out what version of the software you have installed on your computer:

  1. Log into Windows XP with an account that has administrative permissions
  2. Click Start and then Control Panel
  3. Double-click Add or Remove Programs, click Windows XP - Software, click Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications, and then click Click here for support information
  4. You'll see a Support Info box with the version number in it. If the version number is between 1.5.0527.0 and 1.5.0532.2, then you have the pilot version. Click Close.

Here's how to disable the pilot version without removing it completely from your computer:

  1. Click Start and then Search
  2. Copy and paste the following file name into the search box: %Windir%\system32\WgaLogon.dll
  3. Once you find the file, change its extension to .old. So the new file name should be %Windir%\system32\WgaLogon.old
  4. Go back and copy and paste the following file name into the search box: %Windir%\system32\WgaTray.exe
  5. Change its name to %Windir%\system32\WgaTray.old
  6. Restart the computer and Genuine Advantage Notifications should be disabled

Here's how to remove Genuine Advantage Notifications completely from your computer:

  1. Make sure you've completed all the above steps
  2. Restart the computer
  3. Click Start, click Run, type cmd, and then click OK
  4. At the command prompt, paste in the following command, then press enter: Regsvr32 %Windir%\system32\LegitCheckControl.dll /u
  5. Restart the computer
  6. Click Start, click Run, type cmd, and then click OK.
  7. At the command prompt, delete the following files by typing the Del command. Press ENTER after you type each command Del%Windir%\system32\wgalogon.old Del%Windir%\system32\WgaTray.old Del%Windir%\system32\LegitCheckControl.dll
  8. At the command prompt, type regedit.
  9. Locate and then right-click the following registry subkeys. Click after you locate each subkey: DeleteHKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft  \WindowsNT\ CurrentVersion\Winlogon\Notify\WgaLogon HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows \CurrentVersion\Uninstall\WgaNotify
  10. Restart your computer

Besides having its share of critics, Microsoft has also inspired plenty of hackers who like to crack its security schemes. With a quick Web search, you can find plenty of hacks and cracks for automatically validating your version of Windows XP, whether it's legitimate or not.

For even more information about Microsoft, software and computer technology, check out the links on the next page.

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