[JPL] "New Protection Software from Sony"

Jeff Turton jturton at comcast.net
Thu Nov 10 15:12:27 EST 2005

This is also the focus of David Pogue's Tech column in the Times today.  
If you are a Mac user it appears as though this is a non-issue

1. From the Desk of David Pogue: Sony BMG's Copy-Protecting

My In box usually bursts to the seams with reader reaction to
stuff I've written. What was unusual this week, though, was
the amount of mail that came in on a topic that I've never
even mentioned: the Sony BMG rootkit tactic.

The story goes like this. Starting in June 2004, Sony BMG
records began copy-protecting its pop-music CD's. Over the
months, the company has used several software schemes for
preventing you, the customer, from making illegal copies of
its discs. But 20 albums are protected by a scheme devised by
a company called First 4 Internet-and it's caused an
incredible online furor.

These CD's, all bearing "Content Protected" labels on the
packaging (meaning "copy protected"), do something very
sneaky if you try to play them on a Windows PC: they install
a proprietary watchdog program that prevents you from copying
the CD more than twice. (On a Macintosh or Linux machine,
these CD's play just fine, without any copy protection.)

Last week, a programmer and blogger named Mark Russinovich
dug a little deeper, and found out something disturbing: the
Sony watchdog program not only installs itself deep in the
core of Windows-it's what's called a rootkit-but it also
makes itself invisible.

The record company doesn't dispute Russinovich's findings.
"The cloaking is an additional level of protection to hide
the protection files themselves," Mathew Gilliat-Smith, CEO
of First 4 Internet, told me. "It's an extra speedbump to
make it that much more difficult [for prospective music
pirates] to circumvent the protection." But Sony BMG didn't
seem to be prepared for the outcry from privacy advocates and
ordinary citizens who felt violated.

To them, Sony BMG's tactic was dangerous, sneaky, intrusive
and maybe even illegal. Some of the problems:

* The hidden-rootkit trick has been used by virus writers to
conceal their tracks. It doesn't give you such a rosy feeling
to know that Sony BMG is treating you the same way.

* Once hidden, the copy-protection software is invisible to
antivirus programs, too. So the baddies of the Internet
could, in theory, use Sony's software as a backdoor to infect
your machine, and your virus checker would miss it.

* If you try to remove the software manually, you risk
disabling your CD player completely. (Instead you should use
the Uninstall link on Sony BMG's customer-service Web site,
whose link appears on the Help screens of Windows Media
Player. Of course, then you can't play the CD on your

* When you insert one of these music discs into your PC, one
of those software license agreements appears. It says
explicitly what's about to occur: "This CD will automatically
install a small proprietary software onto your computer. The
software is intended to protect the audio files on this CD.
It will reside on your computer until it is removed or

But this note does not say that the software hides itself.
And, even more damning, you don't see this note until you've
scrolled down to the third page of legalese in the license
agreement. Let's not kid ourselves: NOBODY ever reads those
license agreements. They're too long, too opaquely written
and generally of little use to anyone except the lawyers.

* Sony's copy-protection software prevents you from playing
the music you've bought on your iPod, which happens to be the
world's most popular music player.
Once the true nature of the Sony BMG software tactic became
public, the company wasted no time in attempting to defuse
the issue. Within 48 hours, it released a patch that makes
its software visible again; you can download it from
http://cp.sonybmg.com/xcp. (Click the Software Updates
button.) Sony also provided the rootkit-cloaking information
to antivirus-software companies, so that the software will no
longer be a potential virus magnet.

At that same Web site, you'll find, incredibly, a link to a
Sony-sanctioned workaround that lets you copy the protected
songs to the iPod. (Sony says it will send you the workaround
by e-mail once you supply the name of the CD and other

Finally, Sony has abandoned the rootkit protection method.
(It says, in fact, that it had planned to do so even before
the trick became public.) It still intends to install copy-
protection software on every audio CD-but it will use other

For now, then, it seems that the cloaked-rootkit issue is
dead. If you bought one of the 20 affected CD's, you can
uncloak the software, and Sony won't be using this scheme

My take? Audio CD's that install software onto your PC are
just creepy. I believe that distributing copies of a CD to
the Internet at large is wrong, so I understand the record
companies' concern. But installing secret, self-masking code
onto customers' computers seems just as wrong.

It's an "any means necessary" approach to the problem, like
dealing drugs to raise money for charity.

Personally, I can't understand why any music fan would buy
one of these discs. If you really want a song from Sony BMG,
why not just buy it from one of the online music stores and
avoid the whole issue? Sony BMG would soon get the message
that customers don't like being treated like criminals.

I was also surprised at how dismissive Sony BMG and First 4
Internet seem to be. "It's a tempest in a teapot," Mr.
Gilliat-Smith says. "It's benign content protection. It's not
malware, it's not spyware-it's innocent.

Consumers, for eight months, have been using these discs with
positive feedback. When the issue arose, we addressed it very

I wondered if he could even understand why consumers might
feel a bit violated. I pointed out that the usual damage-
control plan for public-relations disasters (see also
Tylenol; Perrier; Pentium bug) is not to haughtily dismiss
customer fears, but to apologize profusely.

But the closest thing Mr. Gilliat-Smith would say is, "We
understand what the concern was, but there was no intent. We
reacted as quickly as we could, took responsive issues. And
now, hopefully, we move on."

On Nov 10, 2005, at 2:22 PM, Ed Trefzger wrote:

> On Nov 10, 2005, at 2:11 PM, Jackson, Bobby wrote:
>> My engineer is up in arms over new protection software on Sony CD's.
>> The story goes if they are played in your PC they install software  
>> which
>> harms the computer and we also got a release today that said the
>> software opens your computer up for some new viruses.  Anyone have  
>> more
>> information on this?
> Here's an article on the subject from Computerworld:
> http://www.computerworld.com/securitytopics/security/story/ 
> 0,10801,106072,00.html
> And one on the security risks that have been found:
> http://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/originalContent/ 
> 0,289142,sid14_gci1144441,00.html

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