Authenticating Microsoft Software Packages

Provided courtesy of EMS Professional Software, the world's leading vendor of old, used, and out-of-print development software.

I'm certainly no expert, but thought I'd share what I've learned about spotting illegitimate copies of Microsoft Products.

First generation COAs

Microsoft first generation COA forgery

In general, COAs should have crisp, well-defined printing, just like currency. If it's at all fuzzy, it's probably a forgery. This photo is from a forgery.

A chain of broken circular cuts goes from left to right across the center of the COA. These make it difficult to remove a COA from an inexpensive product and transfer it to a counterfeit one. If the cuts are missing, it's a forgery.

Microsoft first generation COA forgery

The Microsoft logo above should be very slightly raised above the COA surface. You should be able to see this at an angle, or to feel it with your fingernail. In the white area above the logo you should see Microsoft written in white ink. This is difficult to see except with proper lighting, at an angle. The photo above is from a forgery.

Microsoft first generation COA forgery

The background of the Microsoft logo at the top of the COA is composed of green micro-printing. The micro-printing should be clear, repeating "Microsoft". The photo above is from a forgery.

Microsoft first generation COA forgery

Seven blue rectangles printed with temperature sensitive ink should fade when rubbed vigorously. The rubbing generates heat, and your fingertip should get hot. You can do this through the shrinkwrap. If genuine, the rectangles should slowly return to blue. Forgeries don't fade when rubbed, or ink smears or rubs off. The photo above is from a forgery.

Second generation COA

COAs should have crisp microprinting, but this is difficult for forgers. You can see the differences below.

Microsoft third generation COA genuineMicrosoft third generation COA forgery

To prevent moving COAs from a cheap, legitimate box to an expensive forgery, MS puts in the COA. Legitimate COAs have "flying Windows logo" cuts. One forgery I've seen used straight cuts. These are best seen by viewing the COA at an angle, to catch light on the cuts.

Microsoft third generation COA genuineMicrosoft third generation COA forgery


Forgeries are made from high resolution scans of an actual box. The easiest way to spot a forged copy is by close examination of any photos on the box. Here's a detail from MS-Mouse package photo.

Microsoft retail box genuineMicrosoft retail box forgery

The white product label on the top of the box is sometimes the only detail you can see when buying. Genuine product is printed clearly. Forgeries are often "muddy", with fatter letters.

Microsoft Box-top label, genuineMicrosoft Box-top label, forgery


Xth generation COA

(on Office2000 and Windows 2000) I haven't seen any forgeries of this yet.

Microsoft COA, 2000


  1. Semi-opaque/transparent Pink rectangle with "2000" printed inside. When rubbed, the pink will quickly fade without the 2000 smearing. Pink comes back after rubbing stops.
  2. Very crisp microprinting of "MICROSOFT" ribbons in waved lines at top half, left two thirds of COA.
  3. Subtle printing in green ink under the Microsoft logo oval at bottom of COA
  4. Flying Windows logos cut into COA descending diagonally from upper left to lower right of COA
  5. See; for licensing terms for retail products.