Friday, November 04, 2005

WARNING: Sony CDs May Be Bad For Your PC

Perhaps you heard about the flap Tim Foreman of Switchfoot was involved in when it became know that their latest album had copy protection (DRM) for Windows PCs. EMI released their latest album "Nothing is Sound" with a mistaken (yeah right) copy proectction flag turned on. Tim Foreman told fans how to circumvent the copy protection and apologized to fans, leading EMI to eventually recall the CD to remanufacture it.

Without debating Tim Foreman's actions, I understand this concern. EMI, however, did not hide their copy protection techonlogy or install it without permission. Enter Sony...

Sony/BMG's previous attempt to copy-protect CDs was easily defeatible and poorly written. Sony's latest CDs require Windows users to install a Sony media player, and it installs a 'rootkit' without the user's permission. User permission is usually obtained through an End-User License Agreement (EULA), and Sony's original EULA did not mention this 'rootkit'.

A 'rootkit' is basically software that utilizes
the mechanisms and techniques whereby malware, including viruses, spyware, and trojans, attempt to hide their presence from spyware blockers, antivirus, and system management utilities.
In other words, rootkits are the worth king of software that intends you harm by hiding itself and controlling key aspects of your system. Sony's new music CDs install this type of software on your computer. Removing it manually will cause your CD-ROM drive to fail.

If you have installed the Sony player from a Sony copy-protected CD, according to CNET, you can contact Sony's cusomter service for removal instructions (they aren't easy...).

Update: I'm not sure exactly what it does, but Sony has released a "patch" for removing the cloaking aspect of their DRM (not the DRM itself).

This was bad timing for Sony. Sony's failure with Betamax and MiniDisc, their poor attempt at copy-proof CDs in March of 2005, and now this? I am actually in favor of the Sony/Philips next-gen video format Blue-ray, but if they're going to try to pull stunts like this...

Update 11/02/2005 09:58 PM: Universal uses similar software on some CDs. Lovely.

Update 11/04/2005 01:05 PM: Don't use the Sony "patch"... it actually makes things worse. Instead, if you have used Sony's CDs recently, do the following:
In the meantime users can perform a safe decloaking by opening the Run dialog from the Start menu, entering “sc delete $sys$aries”, and then rebooting. This sequence deletes the driver from the Windows Registry so that even though its image is still present on disk, the I/O system will not load it during subsequent boots.
Source: Sysinterals Blog

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