Sony CD Protection Sparks Security Concerns

Sony uses a cloaking tool known as a rootkit to shield its copy protection software on its CDs, a technique that is not inherently dangerous, but is often used by virus writers to obscure their activities on a computer. While the threat rootkits on CDs pose to computers is still largely theoretical, many in the software security community have voiced concerns, and the discovery has also breathed new life into the debate between digital rights management and fair use. The rootkit’s creator, First 4 Internet, claims that the cloaking device is designed to make it difficult to hack the contents of CDs or other products, but that it worked closely with Symantec and other antivirus companies to ensure it was secure. Sony has said the software can be uninstalled easily, and First 4 Internet has not heard of any malware incidents in the eight months that CDs with rootkits have been out. Rootkits are designed to embed themselves deep within an operating system to mask the existence of certain programs, and are ordinarily difficult to remove. Because it remains in a computer’s memory, the rootkit has the potential to be exploited by virus writers, though many security experts dismiss that threat as theoretical. The controversy over protection techniques strikes at the heart of the balance the entertainment industry is attempting to strike between security and digital rights. At present, commercial CDs can be copied onto backup discs or ripped onto a computer, with the caveat that such activities are intended for personal use.

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