Feeds

Western Digital's 'crippleware': Some lessons from history

The panic that wasn't

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

Seven years ago, The Register broke what became the biggest DRM story of all time. It described a plot that took place in obscure committee rooms that was quite cunning in its insidiousness. Had it succeeded and been implemented, it would have seen the demise of the open personal computer platform - without anyone realising it. For the first time, many of us became fully aware of the consequences of a locked-down PC.

This wasn't science fiction, but a very real and present danger.

CPRM was a sophisticated, cryptographically-based restriction technology designed for use on removable media, developed at IBM's Alamaden Research Lab. It's the "S" on an SD Card, and 200 million copies of CPRM media have been sold.

However, at the behest of Hollywood interests, moves began to incorporate it into PC Hard Drives, by making CPRM a part of the standard command set for ATA disks. Each hard drive would be individually signed, and total control of the media could be assumed by the rights holder. A CPRM-compliant song or movie file that resided on a CPRM-compatible hard drive could be deleted or locked-down at will: assuming you were given the right to save it in the first place.

This caused an outcry from enterprise users and their software vendors, who quickly realised that CPRM would break existing storage and backup systems. Then, as the implications spread, it became apparent that this provided the Holy Grail copyright holders had been seeking.

CPRM was incredibly hard to break. As a broadcast encryption system it provided a constantly moving target for hackers in the form of a matrix of tens of thousands of device keys; these keys could be revoked and refreshed by the rights holder. A group of manufacturers comprising Intel, IBM, Matsushita (Panasonic), and Toshiba formed a group to license the technology widely.

We published shortly before Christmas 2000, and a fascinating and fairly nerve shredding few days followed. There was no anti-DRM lobby at the time: no P2P bloggers to hound the manufacturers. But understanding this one required learning some obscure technical procedures, and a little about standards committee politics.

CNet followed-up, but the reporter failed to do the necessary homework, so was easily misdirected by PR spin. It looked like our story might die, and it was only when Dawn Chmielewski put the issue on the front page of the San Jose Mercury nine days later that I could breathe easily.

In the ensuing storm, the issue reached the boardrooms of Intel and IBM. The perception of a locked-down media appliance hurts business. What the hell are we doing? directors demanded.

CPRM on ATA was dropped from the spec - but from there we entered even more dangerous territory. The T.13 committee produces a specification that covers only the lowest common denominator set of operations, and two thirds of commands are "vendor-specific". A Western Digital or a Seagate often produces its own.

See any parallels to today? Let's see...

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
The Return of BSOD: Does ANYONE trust Microsoft patches?
Sysadmins, you're either fighting fires or seen as incompetents now
Microsoft: Azure isn't ready for biz-critical apps … yet
Microsoft will move its own IT to the cloud to avoid $200m server bill
US regulators OK sale of IBM's x86 server biz to Lenovo
Now all that remains is for gov't offices to ban the boxes
Flash could be CHEAPER than SAS DISK? Come off it, NetApp
Stats analysis reckons we'll hit that point in just three years
Oracle reveals 32-core, 10 BEEELLION-transistor SPARC M7
New chip scales to 1024 cores, 8192 threads 64 TB RAM, at speeds over 3.6GHz
Object storage bods Exablox: RAID is dead, baby. RAID is dead
Bring your own disks to its object appliances
Nimble's latest mutants GORGE themselves on unlucky forerunners
Crossing Sandy Bridges without stopping for breath
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.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.