The final release candidate for Microsoft's newest version of Windows was made available Tuesday, and already infected pirated versions of the software are making the rounds.
On Thursday, Microsoft said that cybercriminals are distributing versions of Windows 7 release candidate (RC) that contain malware designed to infect a customer's PC.
In an interview posted at the company's official website, Joe Williams, general manager, Worldwide Genuine Windows at Microsoft, said that users should be wary. He pointed out that consumers face potential identity theft, system failures and unrecoverable data loss if they become victims.
“Pirated software can contain malware and can threaten a user's personal privacy and information,” he said.
As early as the last week of April, leaked version of the operating system RC cropped up on torrent sites, and it's possible the compromised versions were among copies being downloaded from those sites.
As to the problem of pirated software itself, Williams said that as many as a third of users worldwide may be running counterfeit copies of Windows, and a significant percentage of these people do not know the software is pirated.
“This is why it's so important for customers to get their copies of Windows from a trusted source,” he said.
Windows protects itself from piracy by detecting when attempts have been made to circumvent or tamper with its built-in product activation technology. When the software is determined not to be “genuine,” the computer starts to display on-screen notifications that it is not, and then shows a “black screen of death.”
“Windows 7 includes the latest generation of Microsoft's anti-piracy technology and provides the technical foundation of our ongoing anti-piracy efforts,” Williams said.
The process for activation is new, as well. As with previous versions, when customers choose not to immediately activate the software, they will see a dialog box explaining how activation helps them identify if their copy of Windows is genuine, Williams said.
“If users choose not to immediately activate,” he said, “they will be allowed to proceed immediately without a 15-second delay.”
Windows 7 RC (Build 7100) is likely to be the final pre-release version before the software is shipped, a date for which has not been announced. It will be available until the end of July, according to Microsoft.