There is no doubt that valid Product Keys are a valuable commodity and need to be carefully guarded from theft. With that in mind, why is the Product ID so visible to one and all? Does this put your Product Key at risk? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answers to a worried reader’s questions.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader user3486470 wants to know if the ability for everyone to see the Windows Product ID on his computer is a cause for concern or not:

Is it a cause for concern that everyone can see the Windows Product ID on my computer? What is my Product Key given the Product ID shown on my computer?

Should user3486470 be concerned that everyone can see the Windows Product ID on his computer?

The Answer

SuperUser contributors Mike and Raystafarian have the answer for us. First up, Mike:

Product IDs and Product Keys are two different things and they have nothing to do with each other. Product IDs are created upon Windows installation and are used for technical support purposes only. The Product ID has absolutely no similarity with the Product Key used for activation.

You cannot determine the Product Key if you know Product ID, and yes, it is safe for other people to see it.

Followed by the answer from Raystafarian:

The simple answer is that these are two distinctly different things. This Microsoft KB article describes what is happening:

  • A PID (Product ID) is created after a product is successfully installed. PIDs are used by Microsoft Customer Service to help identify the product when customers engage Microsoft for support. A Product Key is a unique combination of numbers and letters that is used during Microsoft software installation to unlock or open the product. If you do not enter the Product Key when you are prompted during the installation, the product may not open until you enter the product key.

Essentially, the Product ID can be tied to hardware, whereas a Product Key is tied to software. It is important to note that Product IDs are not only used for PCs with Windows installed on them but also for mobile devices, gaming consoles, peripherals, etc.

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Akemi Iwaya
Akemi Iwaya has been part of the How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media team since 2009. She has previously written under the pen name "Asian Angel" and was a Lifehacker intern before joining How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media. She has been quoted as an authoritative source by ZDNet Worldwide.
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