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Jun 28, 2006


Matt Stachoni

While I agree that the "Windows Genuine Advantage" tool is ridiculous (for no other reason than that it was effectively cracked months ago), the damning evidence that can be had from a simple ping is next to nil for a software company looking to go after individual instances of software piracy.

The facts you can glean from such a trackback to the user are almost all isolated to geography. If the "CAD Package" you refer to is sending lots of pings home from Uruguay, for example, and the CAD vendors doesn't sell to Uruguay, there might be something to investigate.

But companies routinely purchase volume licenses, where one serial number goes on many many machines, in many different offices, each with a different IP. IPs also change on a daily basis, depending on your ISP (many companies do just fine with broadband services with a dynamic IP, because it's cheaper than a static IP).

Furthermore, many apps - including AutoCAD - allow users to run the software on more than one machine, which dilutes any aggressive tactics one can get by examining IP addresses alone.

Heck, I must be flooding Autodesk with pings on a constant basis, just because ADT crashes out all the time.

In other words, such pings can net a developer a big picture view of installations, but specific instances of illicit use require a LOT more information to be gathered before potential evidence can be produced in a court of law.

The nefariousness in such "phone home" spyware techniques come when the software demands some sort of activation on installation (many do not), and sends back extensive system and personal information, such as machine name, user name, software serial and registration numbers, and so on. With THAT information, a developer can determine if the installation is proper and/or uncracked, and that can get you into trouble.

Furthermore, companies are getting very smart about what packets can legitimately come in and go out of their routers. Lots of packets sent to a single target would definitely raise some flags, or at least prompt some bright soul to put a packet sniffer on the line to see what's getting sent back. I've not heard of any such investigation being done for a CAD app.

So, unless a lot of data is being sent back to the Mother Ship at runtime, I wouldn't worry too much about any black helicopters landing in your back yard because you fired up that warez copy of Phososhop.

But, that said, it might be wise to keep a couple extra tinfoil hats at the ready. Just in case.

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