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Sony copy protection software raises security, privacy concerns

The sneaky software is designed to stop CDs from being copied

By Robert McMillan
November 9, 2005 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Mark Russinovich couldn't understand how the rootkit had sneaked onto his system. An expert on the internals of the Windows operating system, he is careful when it comes to computer security and generally has a good idea of what is running on his PC at any given time.
And yet the security tool he uses to check his PC was pretty clear: It had found the "rootkit" cloaking software typically used by virus and spyware writers.
After a bit of detective work, Russinovich eventually tracked down the source: a Sony BMG Music Entertainment CD titled Get Right with the Man, performed by country music duo Donnie and Johnny Van Zant.
It turns out that Sony is using techniques normally seen only in spyware and computer viruses to restrict the unauthorized copying of some of its music CDs. Sony's software, licensed from a Banbury, England-based company called First 4 Internet Ltd., has become the basis of a dispute that pits computer advocates against an entertainment company experimenting with new ways to prevent unauthorized copying of its products.
After news about the anticopying software emerged, Sony last week issued a patch that removes the controversial cloaking technology used to hide it. But that patch has been blamed for crashing some PCs that run Windows (see "Sony XCP patch might crash Windows").
Sony has been using First 4's Extended Copy Protection (XCP) software since early 2005 as a copy protection mechanism, according to Sony spokesman John McKay. Added so far to about 20 of the company's music titles, it is one of two digital rights management products used by Sony. The other is SunnComm Inc.'s MediaMax software, he said.
The XCP software prevents users from making more than three backup copies of any CD, and Sony puts an XCP notification on the back of CDs that use the mechanism, according to Mathew Gilliat-Smith, First 4's CEO.
The Van Zant CD software came with an end-user license agreement (EULA) informing Russinovich that he would be installing software that would reside on his PC until removed. But Russinovich, chief software architect at systems software company Winternals Software LP, said he never expected to be installing a product that would then prove to be virtually undetectable and extremely difficult to remove.
McKay believes that the disclosures in the license agreement are adequate. "I think the EULA's pretty clear about what it is," he said. "The reason why consumers have really high acceptance levels of these content-protected disks is because they have the functionality that people want."
The First 4 software does nothing malicious and can

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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