To help secure the internet, we need to be sure that not only do we patch our own machines but that as many other machines around the world are also patched. Unless we do this, new worms and viruses can use unpatched machines to help them spread around the world in minutes.
With IT security so important to Microsoft right now, surely the last thing that the company would ever dare to do would be to deny millions of users the ability to download and install security patches.
But that is precisely what Microsoft is about to do. During the second half of 2005, Microsoft will turn off its Windows Update facility to anyone who does not have a properly licensed copy of Windows. Those who are running pirated OSs won't be able to update them. They will therefore be forever available for use by hackers who manage to penetrate them.
I can appreciate Microsoft's attitude here, and I certainly don't condone piracy. If you install a dodgy copy of Windows you don't strictly deserve access to the patches and updates which help to keep your data secure. Microsoft has always been keen to stress that a pirated copy of Windows isn't as reliable or secure as a properly paid-for one. This wasn't always true, of course, but it is finally about to turn into reality.
When the next Sasser or Blaster causes havoc around the world, merrily travelling around the internet unhindered by patched machines, Microsoft can conveniently lay the blame at the feet of those putting others at risk by allowing their unlicensed machines to connect to the internet. Very handy.
Microsoft is beefing up its online support areas, adding new multimedia applications and useful system tools which can be downloaded free of charge. These are available only to those with a genuine copy of Windows. A very sensible idea, from both a technology and marketing perspective.
But either Microsoft takes security seriously or it doesn't. And blocking millions of machines from accessing its update servers clearly shows that it doesn't. This decision will please no one but hackers and virus-writers.