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Gaffer tape defeats Sony DRM rootkit

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Updated Sony's controversial DRM technology - which installs rootkit-style software when users play Sony BMG CDs on Windows PCs - can be defeated easily with nothing more than a piece of masking tape, security researchers have discovered.

Sony BMG has endured a public-relations and legal nightmare after it emerged digital rights management (DRM) software installed on some of its music CDs (First4Internet XCP program) created a handy means for hackers to hide malware from anti-virus scanning programs.

Under pressure, Sony has been forced to recall discs loaded with the technology and create an exchange program for consumers. The music label still faces class action lawsuits by users who allege that their PCs have been damaged by the technology.

Now analyst house Gartner has discovered that the technology can be easily defeated simply by applying a fingernail-sized piece of opaque tape to the outer edge of the disc. This renders session two — which contains the self-loading DRM software — unreadable.

"The PC then treats the CD as an ordinary single-session music CD, and the commonly used CD 'rip' programs continue to work as usual. Moreover, even without the tape, common CD-copying programs readily duplicate the copy-protected disc in its entirety," Gartner (which is at pains to say it doesn't endorse the use of rip technology) explains.

So Sony's DRM technology is not going to prevent tech-savvy home users - much less pirates - from copying CDs to their heart's content even though it loads "stealth" software onto the PCs of the less informed. "After more than five years of trying, the recording industry has not yet demonstrated a workable DRM scheme for music CDs," Gartner concludes. It reckons the music industry will abandon attempts to encumber CDs with DRM software and refocus its efforts on pushing legislation to require that DRM technology be integrated into PCs. ®

Update

Placing gaffer tape on the edge of a CD may make it unbalanced and could cause damage to the disc or (worse) drive as it spins at high speed. A better option, as Reg readers point out, might be to disable Windows autorun.

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