November 3, 2005 12:38

Sony criticised over anti-piracy CD software

Experts fear copy protection could cripple computers

Sony criticised over anti-piracy CD software
Record label Sony BMG has been criticised for using virus writer tactics to prevent people illegally copying CDs.

Programming experts fear that the firm's hidden anti-copying system Extended Copy Protection (XCP), which is said to feature on more than two million discs, could lead to users crippling their computers.

XCP, developed by UK software company First 4 Internet, only allows three copies of an album to be made and only allows the CD to be listened to on a computer via a proprietary media player.

The program uses cloaked files to hide deep inside Windows which resemble a system virus writers use to hide malicious software which cannot be spotted by most anti-virus scanners, reports BBC News.

Mark Russinovich, a Windows programming expert, who came across Sony BMG's anti-piracy device when he was scanning his computer through a utility he co-created, claims that ridding his computer of XCP briefly crippled his CD player.

Writing in his blog about the incident, he said: "Not only had Sony put software on my system that uses techniques commonly used by malware to mask its presence, the software is poorly written and provides no means for uninstall."

But Mathew Gilliat-Smith, chief executive of First 4 Internet, said the techniques used to hide XCP were used by many other programs and added that there was no evidence that viruses were being written that took advantage of XCP.

He said Russinovich's work had prompted the company to release information to anti-virus companies to help them correctly spot the hidden XCP files.

Consumers can also contact Sony BMG for the patch to unveil, rather than remove, the hidden files.

He said that users were adequately warned about the copy protection software in the licence agreement and were told that it used proprietary software to play the CD.

Sony BMG also said that following Russinovich's comments, they will not be using the XCP system in the future.

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