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Read product keys and licenses under Windows – how it works

When reinstalling Windows, you also need the serial numbers of all applications. PC-WELT reveals how you can easily find out the codes and which tools will help.

Software is now mostly downloaded from the Internet. As soon as you have paid, you will receive a serial number with which you can activate the program. For a new installation, for example after a major clean-up on the hard drive, you should keep the code in an archive after the installation, but this can go wrong for several reasons. But even the boxes of large, expensive applications with their enclosed or printed serial numbers do not offer reliable protection against loss. In this article, PC-Welt therefore presents you with various options on how you can also subsequently determine the codes of Windows and the installed applications so that nothing stands in the way of a clean system setup.

Windows 10 license legally received from 35 euros

Read out the product key from Windows

Since Windows 10 has been on the market, you actually no longer need it: If you have updated from Windows 7 or 8.x to 10, the setup routine of the operating system has read the existing product key, into a Windows 10 Key converted and stored together with a hardware hash (a kind of cross-sum of the computer configuration) at Microsoft in a central database.

Even if you want to install Windows 10 on an empty disk, you only need a valid product key for Windows 7 / 8.x, which is then requested during setup. Each time Windows 10 is reinstalled, the operating system accesses the database and independently retrieves the required data.

For some special cases, it may still be necessary to determine the key. If you have several Windows licenses and want to know which computer has which one installed, you can clarify this using an internal command from the operating system. To do this, type “input” in the search field of the taskbar and right-click on the “prompt” location. Select “Run as administrator” and enter the command “slmgr -dli”. After a short pause for thought, a window of the Windows Script Host opens, which shows you the last five characters of the code next to “Part Product Key”. That should be enough for identification.

Licensecrawler works slowly and thoroughly and provides a long list of serial numbers and product keys. However, the presentation leaves something to be desired. Nevertheless, the tool is recommended because of the many results.

To determine the complete product key, you need outside help. The key is stored in the registry under the path HKEY_LOCAL_ MACHINE SOFTWARE Microsoft Windows NT CurrentVersion DigitalProductId, but it is encrypted there. Only with an external tool like the freeware Windows 9 Product Key Viewer you can read it in plain text. The program does not require installation; just start the EXE file. Unfortunately, an advertising page is also called up on the Internet, but you can close it as is. The alternative is called Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder, a program that, according to the anufacturer, also reads the keys of more than 300 applications. In the test, however, it only delivered the Windows 10 product key. They fared better Produkey and Quadsoft Product Key Extractor; at least both also named the serial number of Microsoft Office. ESET Multi-Device Security – a solution for all your devices Other tools, however, failed completely.                          Winguggle For example, Windows 10 showed a serial number that no other program knew, not even Windows itself  Winkeyfinder didn’t find what he should. The Ultimate PID Checker delivered the Windows key, but not the promised MS Office product key.

Determine the saved WLAN password

The free Mykeyfinder from Abelssoft provides numerous serial numbers and product keys, but many of them are of no interest to the user because they relate to free software.

Windows remembers the settings of all wireless networks with which you have connected it at some point. Unfortunately, it does not offer a function to view the passwords. If you want to set up WLAN access on another computer or on your smartphone and have not written the password down somewhere, you can either look in the settings of the router or use a small program from the tool specialist Nirsoft. Wirelesskeyview shows a list of the saved WLANs, the respective encryption and the key as ASCII and hexadecimal code immediately after the call. If you have the appropriate administrator rights, it also provides the WLAN passwords of another PC in your network. It also comes with a copy function that you can use to transfer and archive the password, for example, in a text file. Or email it to another device.

Obtain serial numbers from the Internet

Websites like Serials.ws maintain extensive databases with serial numbers, many of which are outdated. Other numbers seem up to date, but still don’t work.

The sale of software as downloads from the Internet opened up completely new possibilities to the pirate scene a few years ago. In a very short time, hundreds of sites were created in cyberspace, which simply presented gigantic lists with serial numbers (Serialz) for almost every program in the world. Because the user no longer needed anything, the software itself was available free of charge from the manufacturer. Most of these sites have disappeared again, only a few classics like Serials.BE or Serials.ws have survived.

Because soon the manufacturers started to check the entered serial numbers online with databases. This way, they could prevent a code from being used twice. As a result, hackers began programming special key generators. These tools are based on the knowledge that the software companies do not manage long lists with valid codes, but only check whether the entered serial number corresponds to certain rules. By comparing several valid serial numbers, the hackers were able to derive the underlying algorithms and incorporate them into their key generators. However, since many manufacturers exchange the algorithm from program version to program version, the tools have to be rewritten again and again. You can find hundreds of these programs on the Internet through Google alone. But be careful: Key generators are often used by criminals to cheer users off computer viruses.

Detect protection through product activation

The software companies have since worked out other methods to limit the number of pirated copies. The best known of these is probably product activation, such as that used by Microsoft or Adobe. Both companies work with central databases that store the license information. Microsoft has primarily used digital licenses since Windows 10, which are linked to the hardware of the PCs. This means that the operating system can be reinstalled on the same computer again and again without having to enter a product key. However, if you have moved to a new computer with Windows or have made major changes to the hardware, the operating system refuses to activate it. In this case, you can use your Microsoft account to make it operational again. You normally only need a product key if you have bought Windows individually from a retailer. Then, however, you have to enter it during setup to permanently unlock the operating system. The combination of key and hardware ID then goes to Microsoft.

Adobe, on the other hand, requires its customers to create an account with an Adobe ID. The company uses this account to manage the serial numbers and ensures that a user does not install more instances of a program than he bought. So that the software can be used on another computer, it must first be deactivated on the original PC.

Telephone activation as a back door

But these mechanisms can also be avoided. For example, hackers use the phone activation that many software companies offer for their products. You either type in the product key and receive a code from the program in return, or you can display a special installation ID. Then you call a service phone number, enter the displayed characters on the phone and get an activation code.

This code is calculated from the installation ID using an algorithm. If a hacker succeeds in cracking this algorithm, he can unlock any installation of a program. And these algorithms often find their way into a key generator. You use it to generate the installation ID or product key, then call the number specified in the program for telephone activation, name the ID or key and have the activation code issued. In some cases, the pirated copies along with the appropriate key generator are offered for download.

The supreme discipline for pirate copies is the crack of the complete software. The source code of the program is rewritten in such a way that security mechanisms such as querying a product key either run into nothing or are completely removed. The complete program package is then available for download via file hosting platforms or exchange exchanges. From time to time the hackers just spread a patch that modifies the installed original software. Since programming is quite complex, these methods are mostly only used with comparatively expensive software. The modified program packages then appear in Warez directories, from where there is often a link to torrent downloads. However, this sales channel is now being monitored. Many pirate copiers have therefore started to produce demo videos of the cracked software, in which you can find instructions on how to use them when you look closely.

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