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Sony Offers Removal Technique on Cloaked DRM Software
November 2, 2005
Thomas Mennecke
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If the record labels are trying to win the DRM (Digital Rights Management) public relations war, they are off to an atrocious start. The intention of DRM is to protect the intellectual property rights of content owners. Being the blanket term it is, DRM can take the form of virtually any technique.

On October 31, 2005, the Internet community learned how ugly these techniques could get. Mark Russinovich, an expert on the internals of Windows and one of the writers behind Sysinternals.com, discovered evidence of a rootkit on one of his computers.

Rootkits are sneaky pieces of software that hide on one's computer. They are virtually invisible to most, if not all, conventional anti-spyware and anti-virus software. You may ask why they hide themselves from diagnostic software scans. This is done because they are most often associated with the worst kinds of software on the Internet. No, not Grokster, but other malicious software such as viruses, trojans, and other malware.

Using RootKitRevealer (RKR), Mark Russinovich discovered a "hidden directory, several hidden device drivers, and a hidden application"

After a lengthy and clever investigation, Mark Russinovich discovered the Rootkit was part of a DRM copy protection scheme devised by a company named First4Internet. First4Internet had developed a DRM technology dubbed XPC, or Extended Copy Protection, which it licensed to Sony-BMG Music. The copy protections software had been included on the Sony-BMG CD "Get Right with the Man" by the Van Zant brothers, which Russinovich had played on the computer in question.

The fact this software couldn’t be detected by conventional spyware or virus sweepers was bad news, but certainly not the worst. If an inexperienced individual were to remove the cloaked files after discovery with RKR, the individual's computer may become seriously crippled. Although Sony repeatedly attempted to hide behind their EULA, which made no mention of this software, the public backlash proved too much for Sony-BMG to bear. Even those who support an artist's right to protect their content were scornful of this inexcusable move by Sony-BMG.

In response, Sony-BMG Music was forced to provide a method to remove this cloaked DRM software. In an update issued today, Sony-BMG issued the following statement:

"November 2, 2005 - This Service Pack removes the cloaking technology component that has been recently discussed in a number of articles published regarding the XCP Technology used on SONY BMG content protected CDs. This component is not malicious and does not compromise security. However to alleviate any concerns that users may have about the program posing potential security vulnerabilities, this update has been released to enable users to remove this component from their computers."

It’s interesting that Sony-BMG Music felt they could hide this kind of copy protection scheme from the public. The music industry is in a difficult position as "legitimate" downloads have stagnated and the P2P population continues to increase. A public relations nightmare such as this, especially one that draws attention to DRM and its implications, is definitely not what the music industry needs.


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Technology News :: DRM

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