Feeds

Shift key breaks latest CD anti-rip tech – grad student

MediaMax CD3 not so 'incredible' after all

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

A Princeton PhD student has published a paper detailing the music industry's latest CD copy protection scheme - and how the technique can be bypassed by simply holding down the host computer's Shift key when a 'protected' CD is inserted.

The copy-protection mechanism in question is SunnComm's MediaMax CD3 system. Launched in September, the company claimed its technology had passed strict testing to Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) copy-protection standards with "flying colours".

The "comprehensive test procedures" - SunnComm's words - were performed by "world-renowned" Professional Multimedia Test Centre (PMTC), based in Belgium. PMTC Division Manager Frans Pender is quoted by SunnComm as saying MediaMax C3 offered "an incredible level of security for the music".

However, Princeton Computer Science Department student Alex Halderman's own analysis concludes MediaMax C3 is "irreparably flawed" thanks to the "weakness of its design". It is, he reckons, "unlikely to cause any significant reduction in copying".

He adds: "In practice, many users who try to copy the disc will succeed without even noticing that it's protected, and all others can bypass the protections with as little as a single keystroke."

Halderman probed SunnComm's technology using an off-the-shelf CD from music label BMG. He found that when the disc was first inserted, it auto-installs a device driver that subsequently interferes with attempts to copying the songs on the CD. The disc contains versions of its songs in DRM-protected WMA format, to allows computer users to listen to the tracks freely and to download the songs to a Microsoft DRM-enabled portable music player.

MediaMax C3 uses Windows' Auto-run feature to install the device driver, says Halderman. By holding down the Shift key, Auto-run can be temporarily disabled, preventing the driver from being installed, and allowing the user to access the otherwise unprotected - and uninterefered with - standard AIFF tracks.

Those tracks are unprotected in order to allow the CD to be played on video game systems and DVD players. Other copy-protection mechanisms, which add errors to the music code on the CD, for example, have foundered because they proved problematic when used on these 'legitimate' playback systems. Ditto their inability to work on Macs. Halderman rightly acknowledges SunnComm's attempt to remove these restrictions, though he points out that the company's technology still leaves Linux users in the dark.

"The driver examines each CD placed in the machine, and when it recognizes the protected title, it actively interferes with read operations on the audio content," writes Halderman. The CD contains drivers for Windows 98/ME/2000/XP and Mac OS X.

Halderman is no mere dilettante in matters of copy protection. He studies under Princeton Professor Ed Felten, who lead the team that successfully took up the challenge to crack the ill-fated SDMI encryption system, and was threatened by the RIAA with a Digital Millennium Copyright Act infringement suit for his trouble.

Halderman has himself published a number of papers on the topic of copy-protection mechanisms.

SunnComm admits its technololgy isn't perfect: "MediaMax CD3 is not a 'holy grail' solution expected to end illicit file duplication and unlicensed sharing," said COO William H Whitemore at the launch. "However, what we expect it will do is create an effective structure on the CD itself that encourages legal and licensed copying activities.

"A determined 'digital shoplifter', like any thief, can always find ways to steal," he added. "However, when record companies employ MediaMax, they create a legal way for music lovers to copy and share the music they purchase."

That said, we're not sure that he had "a way to steal" as simple as the one revealed by Halderman.

We asked SunnComm for comment, but the company did not return our calls. PMTC's Pender was similarly unavailable. ®

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Stick a 4K in them: Super high-res TVs are DONE
4,000 pixels is niche now... Don't say we didn't warn you
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Bose says today is F*** With Dre Day: Beats sued in patent battle
Music gear giant seeks some of that sweet, sweet Apple pie
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
Too many IT conferences to cover? MICROSOFT to the RESCUE!
Yet more word of cuts emerges from Redmond
Joe Average isn't worth $10 a year to Mark Zuckerberg
The Social Network deflates the PC resurgence with mobile-only usage prediction
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.