Roy Schestowitz wrote:
> __/ [Gordon Burgess-Parker] on Friday 11 November 2005 13:40 \__
> > http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4427606.stm
> Thanks for the service, Sony. Maybe *this* helps:
This article discusses how easily Sony's antipiracy measures have been
turned into hacker tools.
Copy Protection has been a problem on computers for almost 30 years.
Back in 1976, Bill Gates publicly called all PC owner/hobbiests a bunch
of "Pirates and Thieves", which may have even been the origin of the
term "Software Piracy".
Numerous attempts at copy prevention have been tried, and nearly
always, they tend to backfire. When new releases of the operating
system came out, applications which depended on "undocumented features"
of the old operating system no longer worked.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of damage being caused by a
combination of antipiracy technology and upgraded base technology was
the "Tree of Evil". When Apple first released the Mac, there was no
hard disk. Microsoft Word had a copy protection scheme which wrote bad
sectors to the disk or drive on which word was installed. The Mac SE
which had more memory also had a SCSI hard drive. The problem was that
SCSI would detect bad sectors and either repair them or replace them
with known good sectors.
When users took a legal copy of Word and attempted to run it on the Mac
SE, the software would install the bad sector, which was immediately
fixed. After a random number of attempts to access the bad sector
failed, the copy detection system would put up a message "Tree of Evil
bears no fruit, trashing disk now", and then the copy protection
software would punish the pirate by wiping out the files on the hard
Fortunately, both Microsoft and Apple had End User License Agreements
which protected them from any possible liability, but it created a
great deal of ill will toward the Mac, and many corporations who had
been very interested in the Mac dropped it like a hot potato.
Eventually, attempts at copy protection were replaced with copy
detection methods. Rather than attempt to prevent the copying, tools
used to copy software, along with the software itself, would have
methods of marking the installed software with information which could
be tied back to the original installer. Through a series of different
associations, if installed software was copied to many other computers,
the "digital water mark" would make it possible to identify the
original distributor and make it possible to take appropriate action.
These tools have been used by the Software Publishers Association
(SPA), the Business Software Alliance (BSA), and Microsoft for the
purpose of identifying pirated software and negotiating terms with the
pirates. Microsoft has managed to combine this copy detection software
with support programs. The user has the option of allowing Microsoft
to contact them about support, but they do not have the option of
disabling the detection system. If the PC is ever connected to the
Internet and used to access certain web sites (too numerous to mention)
part of the cookie installation process includes sending a "probe"
message which can be used to collect information about what has been
installed. There are probably a number of "probe" devices, and of
course, since their purpose is to covertly identify large-scale piracy,
it's very important to keep these tools secret. Furthermore, it is
necessary to add and move probes as pirates begin to discover and
disable the probes in order to avoid detection.
Nearly all of these schemes involve 3 steps.
"Branding" - marking each machine or installation with a serial number
or other unique identification - usually using digital watermarking or
other marking that cannot be easily detected and disabled.
"Registration" - Associating the marking or branding to a specific user
or organization, knowing who is supposed to own the licensed software
and how many copies they should have.
"Reporting" - This involves getting the signature or branding
information from each computer, to make sure that only the right number
of copies have been legally made. When illegal or unregistered copies
are being used, these can be tracked to determin whether this is a
single organization who needs to pay for a "site license" or a pirate
who is reselling pirated products to variouos users as original
Of course, both copy protection and copy detection software depends
heavily on the ability to alter application software which may have
been installed by an administrator, even when the person using the
software that triggers the branding, registration, and reporting
software is run by a non-privilidged user.
Any mechanism which can be used to identify piracy can also be used by
hackers to alter ANY file on the PC, gather ANY information from the
PC, and execute ANY program on the PC.
The first rule of security is that you NEVER download, install, and
execute software which you don't know and trust. To that end, the
security team will do everything it can to try to prevent unauthorized
users from installing untrusted software, especially without their
knowledge. The AntiPiracy interest however, is doing everything in
their power to make sure that branding, registration, and reporting
software is downloaded, installed, and executed - without the user's
Not all copy management systetms are so covert. Shareware, for example
is quite direct about letting you download the software, telling you
that you are registering your software, giving you the branding
information and letting you install it yourself, and even testing the
e-mail or http reporting system used to confirm that your system can be
properly tracked and validated.
The Open Source community is even less covert. Red Hat and SuSE for
example, give you the ability to download trusted software from trusted
locations, then they let you register your software and get your "key"
or branding information, which you then install into your automatic
update system. Each time you want to check for updates, the update
software tells the update site exactly what software you are running,
including versions and then provides the service of providing updated
versions of the software, including security fixes for non-problem or
low-risk software which may include digital watermarks.
The irony is that legitimate users are quite happy to register their
software, and since they are only being charged for the "update
service" not the software, there is almost no incentive for Pirates to
attempt to circumvent the piracy detection measures.
The irony is that Microsoft is gradually adopting the "open source
model". Most corporations now receive or generate "install images"
which can be installed by technicians or end-users, and automatically
handles the registration service. Microsoft usually charges the
corporatiton a flat-rate per employee per year regardless of what they
are actually using. The company AND Microsoft can then get reporting
information which helps them identify any employees who are suddenly
running windows on 20 or 30 computers (a pretty good indicator of
piracy). If an employee is suddenly showing up on the radar, he can be
terminated and/or prosecuted.
> <quote class="contributory">
> "Three of the world?s biggest electronics companies ? IBM, Sony and Philips
> ? have joined forces with the two largest Linux software distributors to
> create a company for sharing Linux patents, royalty-free."
> When the devils from Redmond disregard your Blu-ray technology and direct-
> ly compete with you over game consoles, aggressive behaviour should be
> seen as a form of reciprocity.
Part of the problem has been that software patents represent a huge
change in patent law which has resulted in a mess. Open Source
technology has been around for almost 2 decades and public domain
software has been around for almost 3 decades. In fact, a great deal
of software technology even dates back to NASA and the Mercury, Gemini,
and Apollo programs. Unfortunately, none of this technology has been
filed with the patent office, which means that "software
anthropologists" could attempt to patent technology which has been
around for decades, but the coupling of the algorythm and the claim is
embedded in some memo or document buried in some digital archive from
20 years ago.
The bigger problem is that there are millions of real innovations that
were byproducts of BSD, FreeBSD, Linux, MIT/Athena (X11,HTML,
multimedia), and of course, GNOME, KDE, and thousands of applications
included in Linux distributions.
IBM and Sony are very big on "Defensive Patents". They file for
thousands of patents every year, citing as much prior technology as
possible in their applications, to make sure that others cannot later
patent such "prior art". Red Hat and SuSE also have huge defensive
patent porfolios already, and also have access to patented software
such as the Xerox "virtual desktop" which can ONLY be sold with Open
Source products. This is sometimes referred to as "PARC's Revenge".
Xerox has refused to permit Microsoft or Apple use this patented
technology unless they pay a fair and reasonable royalty for the
technology they obtained from PARC - royalty free - for use in Mac and
> If Microsoft finally decide to behave and drop the arrogant attitude, then
> maybe, just maybe, their technology will no longer be complemented by dan-
> gerous hacks. Until then, cope with the consequences.
Microsoft still insists on the "static license" model and the "covert
piracy detection" model, which means that they MUST leave the back
doors open. As long as those back doors are open, the hackers will be
able to drive freight trains through them.
Keep in mind that the types of hacks that make the headlines are the
ones that are open and disruptive. The virus that spreads so rapidly
that network performance drops to about 20%, the virus that slows down
your PC or causes it to run strangely, or the viruses that result in
identity theft make the papers, TV reports, and headlines. Spyware is
just begginning to hit the radar screen as a problem, primarily because
there are so many companies trying to plan spyware that PC performance
The bigger problem, which will probably never make the front-page news
or get coverage on national network news, is the ability of hackers to
gather the most private and confidential information from your
computer. Microsoft's back doors make it possible for hackers to read
the e-mails of government officials, enabling them to get inside
information about grand jury hearings, senate investigations, and other
"closed door" hearings, then leak this information to news sources.
> Roy S. Schestowitz | Useless fact: Falsity implies anything
> http://Schestowitz.com | SuSE Linux | PGP-Key: 0x74572E8E
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