November 11, 2005

Piracy Prevention Turns into PR Nightmare

Filed under: Business Moves,Consumer Outrage,Corporate Outrage — Tom @ 6:57 pm

It’s one thing to protect your intellectual property, it’s quite another to leave your customers vulnerable to hackers and thieves in the process (bolds are mine):

Sony to Suspend Making Antipiracy CDs

WASHINGTON (AP) – Stung by continuing criticism, the world’s second-largest music label, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, promised Friday to temporarily suspend making music CDs with antipiracy technology that can leave computers vulnerable to hackers.
Sony defended its right to prevent customers from illegally copying music but said it will halt manufacturing CDs with the “XCP” technology as a precautionary measure. “We also intend to re-examine all aspects of our content protection initiative to be sure that it continues to meet our goals of security and ease of consumer use,” the company said in a statement.
The antipiracy technology, which works only on Windows computers, prevents customers from making more than a few copies of the CD and prevents them from loading the CD’s songs onto Apple Computer’s popular iPod portable music players. Some other music players, which recognize Microsoft’s proprietary music format, would work.
Sony’s announcement came one day after leading security companies disclosed that hackers were distributing malicious programs over the Internet that exploited the antipiracy technology’s ability to avoid detection. Hackers discovered they can effectively render their programs invisible by using names for computer files similar to ones cloaked by the Sony technology.
A senior Homeland Security official cautioned entertainment companies against discouraging piracy in ways that also make computers vulnerable. Stewart Baker, assistant secretary for policy at DHS, did not cite Sony by name in his remarks Thursday but described industry efforts to install hidden files on consumers’ computers.
“It’s very important to remember that it’s your intellectual property, it’s not your computer,” Baker said at a trade conference on piracy. “And in the pursuit of protection of intellectual property, it’s important not to defeat or undermine the security measures that people need to adopt in these days.”

Sony itself violated John Dvorak’s first rule of ethical computer software company conduct (which he thinks should be a law):

“Any person who knowingly writes or reads files from another person’s computer by personal or robotic means for whatever reason whatsoever and without the permission of the party involved, with full knowledge of the activity each and every time the action is performed, is guilty of a felony and subject to fine and imprisonment not to exceed $10,000 and one year in prison for each offense.”

Sony hasn’t conceded its right to mess with the inner workings of its customers’ computers. Very, bad, idea, and probably bad for business too.

UPDATE: Commenter Kevin Irwin below refers to this BBC article, which has a passage that better explains what Sony was doing, and makes it clear how vulnerable it made users’ computers:

Windows programming expert Mark Russinovich discovered that the Sony XCP copy protection system was a so-called “root-kit” that hid itself deep inside the Windows operating system.

XCP uses these techniques to install a proprietary media player that allows PC users to play music on the 20 CDs Sony BMG is protecting with this system. The CDs affected are only being sold in the US.

Soon after Mr Russinovich exposed how XCP worked security experts speculated that it would be easy to hijack the anti-piracy system to hide viruses.

Now anti-virus companies have discovered three malicious programs that use XCP’s stealthy capabilities if they find it installed on a compromised PC.

If you mess with the root, you’re messing with all the security that Microsoft has added in its Service Pack 2 and other updates to protect the root.

It would be interesting to know, but I doubt that Sony consulted Microsoft before they just went ahead and did this. If they had, they could at least have a shot at defending themselves, which by the way they need to (from the BBC article): “At last count six class-action lawsuits have been started against the company. As the Boycott Sony blog pointed out, the appearance of these viruses could make it much easier for lawyers to argue that the XCP software can cause real harm to a user’s computer. “

Speaking of the Sony Boycott Blog, the blog’s author is semi-pleased:

So, is this Victory? I don’t think so. But it is a victory. Yes, music listeners are still being treated like criminals by the music industry; yes, our rights are still being infringed by increasingly draconian DRM. (“Digital Rights Management”–Ed.)

But, apparently, a line in the sand has been drawn. It’s OK to restrict our rights but not to break our computers to do it. Yay, he said listlessly.

I happen to think that users are willing to put up with reasonable controls over intellectual property that does not unduly inconvenience them. The location of the undue inconvencience line is the big question, but the line should definitely be somewhere outside the user’s computer.

The blog also notes potential vulnerability for Mac users when companies like Sony attempt to use invasive technology, since in the Mac’s case “the latest versions of the Suncomm DRM used on other Sony BMG releases installs one or more kernel extensions under Mac OS X.” My message as a Mac user: “Nobody messes with my kernel.”

UPDATE 2, Nov. 13: Sony appears to be stuck on stupid (HT Drudge):

Sony BMG has still not identified which of its music CDs contain the software. Earlier this week, however, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a US-based consumer advocacy group, identified at least 19 Sony BMG music CDs that the group claims install the software when played on a PC.

Critics, including the EFF, claim the software also slows down PCs and makes them more susceptible to crashes and third-party attacks. “Since the program is designed to hide itself, users may have trouble diagnosing the problem,” the EFF said.

Quotes of the Day: Mark Steyn (Who Owns the Category)

Filed under: Quotes, Etc. of the Day — Tom @ 3:20 pm

First, from a Hugh Hewitt interview November 10, on treatment of captured terrorists:

I do think that what’s pathetic about all Western countries, including the United States, including France, including Canada, and a lot of other countries, is that they make these sort of high school sophist arguments about terrorism, as if it’s some sort of theoretical debate. It’s not. We’re dealing with a very difficult situation here. And if you accord to terrorists all the rights of somebody who gets arrested for holding up a liquor store in Des Moines, you are going to lose to the terrorists, because when you accord them the full rights of somebody who is a criminal, you make it impossible to prosecute this as a war, which is what it is.

In the same interview, on the national loyalties of Muslims:

And I may say one of the big developments in recent years is also that people who are Muslims, one of the bad things about this Islamism, is that Muslims now identify that as their primary identity. And in a way, that’s what ties in what happened in Jordan, with what happened in Bali, with what happened in Chechnya, with what’s happening on the streets of France….. once you decide to embrace a Muslim identity, that’s your primary identity. And the fact that you’re a citizen of France, or the citizen of the United Kingdom, or a citizen of the United States, is very secondary to that.

Finally, from his recent UK Spectator column (requires registration) dated November 12, on the current underreported demographic reality:

Now go back to that bland statistic you hear a lot these days: ‘about 10 per cent of France’s population is Muslim’. Give or take a million here, a million there, that’s broadly correct, as far as it goes. But the population spread isn’t even. And when it comes to those living in France aged 20 and under, about 30 per cent are said to be Muslim and in the major urban centres about 45 per cent. If it came down to street-by-street fighting, as Michel Gurfinkiel, the editor of Valeurs Actuelles, points out, ‘the combatant ratio in any ethnic war may thus be one to one’ — already, right now, in 2005. It is not necessary, incidentally, for Islam to become a statistical majority in order to function as one. At the height of its power in the 8th century, the ‘Islamic world’ stretched from Spain to India, yet its population was only minority Muslim. Nonetheless, by 2010, more elderly white Catholic ethnic frogs will have croaked and more fit healthy Muslim youths will be hitting the streets. One day they’ll even be on the beach at St Trop, and if you and your infidel whore happen to be lying there wearing nothing but two coats of Ambre Solaire when they show up, you better hope that the BBC and CNN are right about there being no religio-ethno-cultural component to their ‘grievances’.

November 11 Outside the Beltway Jammer.

One More Reason The New York Times Should Be Paying YOU $50 If You Get TimesSelect

Filed under: Economy,MSM Biz/Other Bias,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance — Tom @ 12:18 pm

“Someone” shoved this under the proverbial e-mail door this morning in a plain brown envelope marked “Read Only If Full Digestion of Breakfast Has Occurred.”

Among other things, the message contained a November 11 piece (“Thou Shalt Not Destroy the Center”) by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, whose ramblings now hide in that politically correct and hermetically sealed alternative universe known as TimesSelect (link not provided for that reason; quoted text is at the end of his column):

Ronald Reagan, the most overrated president in U.S. history, lowered taxes and raised government spending, triggering a huge spike in the deficit. But because he did it with a sunny smile and it happened to coincide with the decline of the Soviet Union, he is remembered as a Great Man. The senior George Bush raised taxes and helped pave the way for the prosperity of the 1990′s. He also managed the actual collapse of the Soviet Union without a shot being fired, using unsmiling but deft diplomacy. Yet the elder Bush is somehow remembered — including, it seems, by his own son — as a failed president.

Add it all up and you can see that we have put ourselves in a position where only a total blow-out crisis in our system will generate enough authority for a democratic government to do the right things.

Let us pray.

So here are Mr. Friedman’s lessons for the day:

  1. Totalitarian empires just collapse without being pushed.
  2. Tax increases lead to prosperity.
  3. The 9/11/01 attacks a few miles from Mr. Friedman’s office do not represent a “blow-out crisis.” (I guess 9/11 was only a “blow-up” crisis, which doesn’t count.)

And, in light of the above, where does Mr. Friedman think “the center” is?

The Times’ march towards becoming Manhattan’s quaint little alternative newspaper continues.

Other Times-related Blasts from the Past:

S.O.B. Alliance Subversive Activities Report

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 12:00 pm

Weapons of Mass Discussion has the details.

In Honor of All Vets

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:35 am

Ralph Kinney Bennett: “I Am Privileged to Know Them”


Image HT Appropriate (not Stupid) Random Thoughts

With Friends Like These–Ohio Issue 1′s Broad-Based Business Support

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:05 am

My weekly e-mail from The Ohio Society of CPAs contained a major disappointment. Unbeknownst to me, The Society supported State Issue 1, a $2 billion bond issuance for “infrastructure and jobs,” which passed with a 54-46 margin on Tuesday.

The Society never asked me what I thought. Their take on Tuesday’s issues election results in Ohio (happy that Issue 1 passed, and that Issues 2, 3, 4, and 5 failed) confirms it, which led me to look into whether other business and professional groups were also behind it.

Yes indeed they were, and what a rude awakening. Ohio Issue 1′s supporters’ list is a heavy splash of cold water on those of us who would like to think that business organizations understand and support free markets. At least 50 chambers of commerce and similar organizations supported it. Silly me–I expected neutrality.

Now I understand why there was no concerted business opposition; the people who supposedly speak for business care more about currying favor with the state than growing it. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” I can’t do much about my membership in the Ohio Society of CPAs, which for professional and business reasons is virtually mandatory. I will just have to do more to stay on top of their political activities. I can at least feel relieved that I’m not a member of any of these turncoat chambers of commerce, having quit Cincinnati’s Chamber a few years ago after their cowardly response to Cincinnati’s riots.

Positivity: CentCom Report on Progress in Iraq for Week of November 7

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:12 am

Progress Being Made (scroll to bottom of page):