Friday, November 04, 2005

More on Sony's DRM rootkit and the Sony 'update'

The internet has been abuzz over the last week about the discovery of digital rights management software that is installed when users attempt to play certain Sony CDs on their windows PCs. The software is installed without the knowledge of the user and adopted many of the characteristics of "malware" or malicious software. (See the blog post that started it all: Mark's Sysinternals Blog: Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far). Since then, Sony has released an update, which Sony says removes the software, but some are reporting to be equally sneaky:

Freedom to Tinker - SonyBMG and First4Internet Release Mysterious Software Update

... The update is more than 3.5 megabytes in size, and it appears to contain new versions of almost all the files included in the initial installation of the entire DRM system, as well as creating some new files. In short, they’re not just taking away the rootkit-like function — they’re almost certainly adding things to the system as well. And once again, they’re not disclosing what they’re doing.

No doubt they’ll ask us to just trust them. I wouldn’t. The companies still assert — falsely — that the original rootkit-like software “does not compromise security” and “[t]here should be no concern” about it. So I wouldn’t put much faith in any claim that the new update is harmless. And the companies claim to have developed “new ways of cloaking files on a hard drive”. So I wouldn’t derive much comfort from carefully worded assertions that they have removed “the … component .. that has been discussed”.

The companies need to come clean with the public — their customers — about what they did in the first place, and what they are doing now. At the very least, they need to tell us what is in the software update they’re now distributing....

UPDATE: Mark of Mark's Sysinternals blog has done some dissecting of the Sony DRM uninstaller and is not at all pleased with what he has found: Mark's Sysinternals Blog: More on Sony: Dangerous Decloaking Patch, EULAs and Phoning Home.

  1. Users are required to provide personal information, including their e-mail address, to download the patch.
  2. The Sonly privacy policy says your address will be added to their marketing lists.
  3. The software "phones home", meaning it connects to Sony's computers though the EULA says it specifically does not.
  4. The software is buggy and likely will not unistall properly.
  5. The software may crash your PC.

I haven't verified any of this myself, but it shows that there are likely real privacy risks with this and that Sony's PR problems aren't close to being over. [Added 2005.11.05 @ 0653]

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