This week, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, working in concert with its counterparts in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), announced the largest software piracy bust in history. The bust, code-named "Operation Summer Solstice," netted more than $500 million in software and 25 arrests, most of which took place in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

Go figure, but Microsoft's reviled Windows Genuine Advantage technology played a role in the bust. According to the company, more than 1000 customers in 12 different countries had unknowingly purchased pirated software from Chinese crime syndicates, discovered their software was illegitimate via WGA, and reported the crime to Microsoft using software tools designed for that purpose. Microsoft relayed this information to the authorities, who traced it all back to China.

Windows Genuine Advantage is often held up as an example of Microsoft's "Big Brother" approach to piracy prevention, and to date, there have been many highly publicized stories about honest customers being victimized by it. Microsoft hopes this event will turn things around. "The goal of WGA is not to punish the people who purchased these programs, \[as\] they are in fact victims," Microsoft Product Manager Nick White noted in a Microsoft corporate blog this week, "but rather to give them a tool that lets them know they have been victimized and a way to do something about it."