What is a keygen?
A keygen, short for “key generator,” is a type of software that generates product activation keys, typically for software applications. These keys are often required to activate or unlock features in software applications. Keygens are often used to bypass the need for purchasing a license key for a particular program.
Keygens vs Cracks
Keygen (Key Generator): As previously explained, a keygen uses reverse engineering to create valid product activation keys. It does this by replicating the algorithm the software uses to generate its own keys. However, keygens do not usually modify the software itself.
Crack: A crack, on the other hand, is a piece of software that modifies another software program to remove or disable features which are considered undesirable by the person cracking the software, especially copy protection features. This includes features such as serial number, hardware key, date checks, CD check or software annoyances like nag screens and adware.
The process of “cracking” involves reverse engineering the compiled program to bypass the methods of protection built into the software. This can involve modifying the software’s executable file(s), or the dynamic link libraries (DLLs) it relies on, or even the bytecode of an interpreted language like Java or Python.
In essence, a keygen attempts to mimic the legitimate process of entering a product key to activate the software, while a crack modifies the software to remove the need for activation altogether.
Pirated software usually requires both a crack and a keygen.
How to use a keygen?
1) Keygens only work for a single program
There is no such thing as a universal keygen that unlocks every single program. In fact, most keygens are limited not just to a single program, but also a specific version of that program.
This means that a keygen designed for “PhotoProgram 2014” won’t work for “PhotoProgram 2015”.
As an exception, sometimes you’ll get bundled keygens where multiple keygens for individual programs are grouped under a single executable program.
2) Make sure Windows Defender or your antivirus doesn’t remove the keygen
Windows Defender and most antivirus programs usually flag keygens and cracks as dangerous malware. Because of this, they automatically quarantine or remove keygens and cracks from your computer.
Part of the reason is that keygens and cracks are very often used as vessels to spread malware, ransomware or other viruses.
Another reason keygens and cracks are labeled as malware is strictly monetary.
Microsoft itself likely loses a lot of money from people that pirate their Office programs. This means Microsoft has a very strong financial incentive to label any keygens or cracks as viruses as a way to protect their own revenues.
If the program you’ve downloaded says that it has a crack or keygen, but you can’t seem to locate it, then those were likely removed from your PC by Windows Defender.
If you suspect this is the case, then you’ll first have to temporarily disable Windows Defender until you can install the program. To do this, follow these steps:
- Open Windows Security app. If you can’t find it, just write “Windows Security” in your Windows search bar.
- Disable everything in the Firewall & Network Protection section.
- In the Virus & Threat Protection section, disable Real-time Protection and Tamper Protection.
- Try redownloading or extracting the keygen or crack.
3) Read the installation instructions from the downloaded program
The exact process to use a keygen is different from program to program. This is because some programs are better secured than others.
Because of this, some programs, cracks and keygens require you to follow certain steps in a specific order in order to properly use a program.
In most cases, these installation instructions can be found in the folder where you downloaded the program.
As an example, below are some installation instructions for a certain modeling program:
As you can see, the instructions above require the user to disable their internet connection during the installation process.
The user must also follow the steps in a very specific order, otherwise the installation will fail.
Installing your program is likely to be different from the one above, so be sure to find the installation instructions to know the exact steps that need to be followed in your case.
4) Create the key and use it activate the program
The key generation is usually the very last step of the installation.
Once you’ve completed every other step in your installation instructions, you’ll simply need to open the keygen and click on “Generate Key” button.
You’ll then use that key to activate your software.
Keep in mind though that some programs work differently than others, so your keygen might not work or look as the one above.
How safe are keygens and cracks?
With pirated software, there is always a risk they contain malware or viruses.
To make matters worse, antivirus programs will almost always classify cracked software or keygens as malware.
This means that even safe cracks and keygens are classified as malware, so it’s very difficult to scan them for viruses without getting a false positive.
The best solution in this case is to rely on your own intuition to find safe cracked programs or keygens.
Some tips for this includes:
- Only download programs from big sites that have a history of moderation and removal of malware content.
- Always look at the comments to see what the other users say.
- Check how old the listing is. Older download listings are usually safe, since they’ve probably been moderated and found safe to keep up.
- Even when using big sites, try to download only from users you know and trust.
- Look for any trusted signs, such as green flags, purple skulls etc.
How do keygens works?
When developers create software, they write it in a language called source code, which is understandable to humans.
This source code is essentially a set of instructions for the computer.
It’s like reading instructions to a friend on how to assemble a chair, but in this case, the friend is a computer.
However, computers can’t understand this source code directly. It’s too complex for a computer, which can only understand binary language – ones and zeros.
So, you first need to convert the source code into simpler instructions, a list of ones and zeros. This is the job of a compiler, which translates human-written source code into binary language. Most of the programs on your computer are in this binary form.
Paid programs require you to provide a username and a proof-of-payment. Once that is complete, they run your username through their algorithm to generate a registration code.
You then enter this code into the program, which checks it against their algorithm to verify its correctness. If they match, you gain access. If not, you’re denied access.
The goal in this case becomes to trick the program into giving you a valid registration code.
As mentioned previously, programmers write source code that’s converted into binary for the computer to understand.
But there’s an intermediate step, called assembly code. This is a more basic form of code that’s somewhat understandable to humans but not as simple as binary.
To convert binary code into assembly code, you’ll need to use a program called a disassembler. Below are some screenshots from a free disassembler called x64dbg.
When you load a program into x64dbg, you get assembly code. It might look intimidating at first, but it becomes easier with familiarity.
The assembly code is a list of instructions for the computer. You’ll also have registers, which store data, and the program’s memory.
When using x64dbg, your goal is to modify the program to give you access even when we don’t have the correct serial key.
This is usually done through a trial and error approach.
When you enter the wrong serial key, the program rejects you. You can then examine the code to see how this rejection process works.
You’ll find that the program compares the correct registration key with the fake one you provided. If they match, it allows access. If not, it denies access.
You can then change this instruction to always grant you access.
Once this is complete, you simply save this modified version of the program and test it to see if it works properly.
If this works, you have successfully cracked a program. The next step is to actually create a keygen.
Looking at the original program, it compares the correct key with the key you provide. The correct key is stored at a specific memory location.
You can modify the program to print the correct key from this memory location instead of displaying an error message. You can then save this as a new executable program and try it out.
This will usually require time, skill and trial and error. However, once you get it right, you can enter any username, and the program will return the correct registration key.
You’ve just created a program that generates a valid key for any username, effectively creating a keygen.
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