Windows XP activation algorithm is defeated after 21 years

A new application allows you to install a fresh, safe, and secure version of Microsoft's venerable Windows XP without needing an internet connection.
Christopher McFadden
Windows XP wallpaper
Windows XP wallpaper


21 long years after Windows XP was first released, its product activation algorithm has finally been cracked, reports The Register. Spotted on a blog post by tinyapps, one dedicated individual has managed to beat the algorithm, enabling a fresh, safe, and secure installation of the mighty operating system without cracking the software.

Windows XP, launched by Microsoft in 2001, offered improved stability, usability, and expanded multimedia capabilities compared to previous Windows versions. It was widely adopted by consumers and businesses, praised for its new interface, expanded hardware compatibility, and network support, while its security flaws sparked controversy. It remained popular until support ended in 2014. Beloved by many, users have attempted to hold on to this version of Windows far beyond its official support, but fresh installs were always tricky without a valid activation key.

First spotted on tinyapps' blog post called "Windows XP Activation: GAME OVER," the article details the ongoing struggle of individuals trying to activate Windows XP more than two decades after its release. Despite the fact that Microsoft discontinued support for the operating system nine years ago, some people still seek to activate it, even though the online activation servers have been turned off or had their certificates swapped.

If you are interested in checking it out, the 18,432-byte activation program, called xp_activate32.exe, can be found in tinyapps' blog post. This program takes the code generated by Windows XP's phone activation option and converts it into a proper activation key, also known as a Confirmation ID, offline. This key is persistent even if the system is wiped or re-installed. Interestingly, it appears to be the same key that Microsoft would provide for your computer.

The new activation method can be done offline and, it turns out, on Linux. This is useful, The Register points out because the OS shouldn't be connected to the 'net, and as-is can no longer talk to Microsoft's servers to activate anyway. Before this, product activation was possible thanks to open-source key generators, but these required external activation services; since Microsoft no longer supports Windows XP, this no longer works.

It is unlikely that many individuals will require this tool, however. There are many sources where you can access fully operational XP images that you can isolate within a virtual machine, such as Microsoft's Windows XP Mode for Windows 7. Intentionally installing a long-unsupported XP on a device that connects to today's internet is reckless at worst and downright asking for trouble at best. That being said, this is a titanic effort to be lauded.

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