Microsoft Gives Windows 8 Away for Free by Mistake

A Reddit user recently disclosed a relatively straightforward method of upgrading to Windows 8 Pro for free.

“Microsoft currently allows Windows 8 Pro users to gain the Windows Media Center (WMC) feature set for free by downloading and installing a Windows 8 Media Center pack from its website,” writes Computerworld’s Lucian Constantin. “This offer was launched on Oct. 26 and is scheduled to run until Jan. 13, 2013. Users only have to register with a valid email address and they will receive a valid product key which they can use during the upgrade.”

“Unfortunately for Microsoft, however, this installation method appears to have an unintended consequence: namely, that it can turn unlicensed installs of Windows 8 into fully-activated, permanent ones,” writes The Register’s Neil McAllister. “The trouble stems from the fact that the Product Key you enter to activate the Media Center Pack isn’t just an extra key that gets filed in the Registry somewhere. Rather, the Media Center key actually becomes your new Windows 8 Product Key, replacing the one you entered when you first installed the OS.”

“For the pirates among us, this would provide a handy workaround for the tech giant’s Key Management Service (KMS). … Once you’ve reached the desktop within the Windows 8 Pro installation and after applying a KMS key, using the new Windows Media Center upgrade key — obtained for free by Microsoft’s Web site — does not result in a validity check,” writes CNET News’ Charlie Osborne. “Therefore, any version of Windows 8 Pro, whether obtained through a pirate KMS network or not, will become fully active and ‘legitimate.'”

“The big issue for Microsoft is the missing check of the underlying operating system key when the upgrade is being processed,” writes Ghacks’ Martin Brinkmann. “Coupled with an anonymous process to get a key for the Windows Media Center upgrade — all that you need is to enter an email address, any email address — it is almost certain that the method will be exploited heavily in the coming weeks.”

“Luckily, the promotion period for the free upgrade ends in January, so the damage that could potentially be done by pirates within the next month and a half is probably minimal,” notes WindowsWave’s Stephen Hall.

Jeff Goldman
Jeff Goldman
Jeff Goldman has been a technology journalist for more than 20 years and an eSecurity Planet contributor since 2009.

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