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Viruses force Sony BMG to suspend CD copy protection scheme

Mark Sabbatini By

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It's a CD copy protection scheme that makes a lot of people sick (along with their computers), so it's fitting a virus is bringing it to at least a temporary halt.

Several viruses, actually, as Sony BMG is suspending for now production of discs embedded with software that installs anti-piracy software when users try converting them into digital formats such as MP3s on computers. Hackers were able to hijack the code and at least four viruses allowing attackers to control infected machines were mass e-mailed shortly before Sony's announcement.

The hackers achieved what consumer outcries, lawsuits and experts discovering Sony's software capable of causing serious computer crashes couldn't.

"As a precautionary measure, Sony BMG is temporarily suspending the manufacture of CDs containing XCP technology," the company said in a statement issued two weeks after the uproar began. But the company is also working "to be sure that it continues to meet our goals of security and ease of consumer use."

Some of the earliest media coverage come from Brian Krebs of The Washington Post and readers responding to his blog were unanimously furious, with most vowing to boycott Sony products.

"This is one of those perfect examples of where the recording industries ideas are completely backwards," one reader wrote. "Sony will lose money over this DRM issue than they could possibly lose from pirating. I don't intend to purchase any more Sony CDs either. I bet they'll try to spin the drop in their sales due to boycott as an increase in pirating of their music. If the major recording companies wish to survive they need to find another strategy. DRM is only going to push their paying customers away. There are always ways to circumvent DRM protection."

The software, designed to limit the number of times a CD can be copied, installs hidden programs in the root structure of Windows operating systems without alerting users. Removing them, even for for experienced users, is nearly impossible and may disable optical drives and other general operations.

Sony has not said how many CDs contain the anti-piracy software. The jazz group The Bad Plus said they didn't know it was embedded on their recently released album Suspicious Activity until afterward and was among those protesting the decision.

A FAQ at the CNET Web site CNet says "If you're buying a CD, look on the back for a little box labeled 'Compatible with.' If that includes the Web address ',' then it probably has the rootkit software included." It also links to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which apparently is compiling a list of CDs with the software.

Related Article
Warning - Sony BMG CDs Install Antipiracy Software On Computers

Discuss Sony BMG's Copy Protection Strategy on the AAJ Bulletin Board.


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