Cat and mouse games

cat-mouseA hacker who goes by the name Muslix64 claims to have discovered a way to defeat the copy-protection scheme being used on the newest HD DVD movies, according to an article on PC Magazine online.

The new AACS encryption system (Advanced Access Content System) has been adopted by Disney, Warner Brothers, and technology companies like Microsoft as a means of preventing pirating.

By design, AACS places severe limitations on the ability of legal owners of DVD movies to make backup copies for their own use. It was this problem that frustrated Muslix64, according to his own account on the Doom9 forum. Taking matters into his own hands, he decided to see if he could crack the new system.

What he ultimately discovered is that the AACS DVD encryption key is written into memory where it is used to dynamically decode the encrypted contents of a movie as it plays. After days of searching, Muslix64 was able to discover the key’s location. With the key in hand, he wrote a software program that uses the key to write the DVD movie to a computer hard drive, where it can be re-written to an ordinary DVD, unencrypted.

A number of commenters on the Doom9 site were skeptical, and Muslix64 has not released information so far on how he located the encryption key, information that could be used to apply his program to other encrypted movies. Most agreed that the information he has released thus far makes sense, and evidence of his success includes a video released on YouTube that shows his decryption program in operation.

I have to admit that I’m rooting for Muslix64. The whole digital copyright law has become more and more stacked against those of us who legally purchase movies, music and computer software, restricting how we can use what we’ve purchased in annoying ways. The presumption is that ordinary consumers are all pirates, which is wrong.

Thus, consumers and media producers are involved in a continuing cat and mouse game, in which ever more complex and restrictive systems are created to protect intellectual rights, only to be broken by clever, and frustrated, consumers who want full benefit from the products they have purchased. The hackers will always win this battle because they have time, incentive, and ever more sophisticated tools on their side.

(I myself have been bitten by this a number of times, having purchased expensive computer diagnostic software only to discover that the developer had created unbearable use restrictions, often without making it clear beforehand that the software was hobbled. It’s annoying, to say the least.)

I see this as an interesting sociological phenomenon. Consumers want the freedom to use the movies and music and software they purchase however they want. Digital rights owners and their lawyers need our money, but they want to retain significant control over how we use what they sell. In a society built on the creed that the customer is always right, these two sets of interests are bound to clash.

There will be more to come, I’m sure.

Image credit: Appalachian State University

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  1. Can’t you be a pirate… and a good man?

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist! 😀 Good post, and have a happy new year!