Sony fights piracy with rootkit techniques

The music industry is continually searching for new copy-protection strategies. It has been revealed that Sony Corp. of America/Bertelsmann AG artists is now employing rootkit-style techniques as part of their digital rights management (DRM) technology. Indeed, The Sony DRM software is incredibly stealthy, virtually undetectable on Windows-based systems, and does not appear in Windows Explorer or the Windows registry.

Dubbed “sterile burning”, this strategy manipulates the Windows core processing center. The DRM files imbed themselves into Windows in such a way that trying to remove them fundamentally changes core components vital to Windows functioning. Industry experts are remaining hush-hush about the details of the technology, fearing that hackers may use the technique to hide malicious programs. However, according to Mathew Gilliat-Smith, CEO of First 4 Internet, similar techniques have been used by internet security companies for years.

The technology is not without its pitfalls. Mark Russinovich of Winternals Software Inc. warns that the rootkit files, because of their simplicity, may be prone to overwriting areas of memory essential to certain applications, causing them to crash. Furthermore, removing the DRM software is incredibly difficult, and even when advanced users find a way to delete it, Windows oftentimes starts failing to read the CD drive. New Sony/BMG CDs will utilize a new version of the anti-piracy technology, addressing these issues.

It can only be expected that media companies will continue to develop new anti-piracy measures and Sony’s use of rootkit-style techniques is but a single example.


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