November 5, 2005
Sony and DRM, Yet More Developments
The researcher who discovered and publicized Sony's controversial DRM software now contends that the patch Sony issued earlier in the week can crash Windows computers under some circumstances. Mark Russinovich published more research on the patch that also raises privacy issues. The software and patch come from First 4 Internet, a U.K. based company. Matthew Gilliat-Smith, CEO of the company, called the statements about computer crashes "pure conjecture."
The software does apparently communicates with Sony whenever a copy protected CD is played on computer with the DRM installed. Sony spokesman John McKay said "No information ever gets gathered, that's for sure."
The latest on this from PC World is here. Has there ever been an industry that holds its customers in such low regard that it resorts to such heavy handed tactics?
Microsoft Building Non-Windows OS
Maybe nothing will come of it, unless making money is involved, but the Microsoft Research Team has built a 300,000 line micro-kernel operating system from the ground up. Called Singularity, the operating system has been designed for reliability rather than performance. Microsoft has a web site and report from the design team on the project. Indications are that Microsoft is using the project as a lesson on how to make Windows more reliable rather than as a separate commercial endeavor. But who knows what will ultimately happen in the market. Could there in fact be a market for a reliable operating system from Microsoft? If you think this comment is pointed, then read the blog item about this at the Houston Chronicle.
News commentary from Microsoft Watch on Singularity is here.
November 4, 2005
New DVD Copy Protection Unveiled
According to the New Scientst, a new technology to defeat DVD pirates was shown at the international DVD Forum in Paris, France, last week. The new system places a watermark on the audio soundtrack which is inaudible to the viewer but detectable by the player. An HD-DVD player, with that technology expected to reach consumers in 2006, would verify that the disc is a manufactured disc and, if not, shut down. Fred von Lohman, IP attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation expressed concerns about how much control Holywood Studios would have in the redesign of existing DVD players and computer drives.
Read the story here.
Westchester County NY Wants to Make Unsecured Wireless Networks Illegal
The Journal News of White Plains, New York, is reporting that County Executive Andrew Spano is proposing a law that requires business wireless networks to have secure firewalls in place to protect public users. Firewalls would also have to secure business data that contained customer information. Businesses would have to file a note of compliance with the county. Violation of the law would bring a warning on the first offense, a $250 fine on the second, and a $500 fine after the third. There are no reports on what would happen to a noncomplying business after the third offense, nor how an offense is defined.
The County sent a team through White Plains in a van with a laptop and recorded 120 unsecured networks out of 240 detected signals. A second trip with reporters found 24 potential security risks out of 52 wireless networks within the first block and a half of the trip.
Spano was quoted as saying "We think that it's important to protect people's privacy, to protect against identity theft and to protect people in general." This is the first law of its type to be proposed.
November 3, 2005
Google Unveils Books Online and Desktop 2
The Google Print Project which has been mired to some extent by copyright holders has placed a large collection of non-copyrighted or out-of-copyright texts online today.
From the Press Release:
Today, Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced the availability of the first large collection of public domain books on Google Print. This collection, scanned as part of the company's book digitization project with several of the world's largest libraries, includes works such as U.S. Civil War history books, government documents, the writings of Henry James and other materials.
Because they're out of copyright, these cultural artifacts can be read in their entirety online at http://print.google.com, where anyone can search and browse every page. They are fully searchable and users can save individual page images.
"Today we welcome the world to our library," said Mary Sue Coleman, President of the University of Michigan . "As educators we are inspired by the possibility of sharing these important works with people around the globe. Think of the doors it will open for students; geographical distance will no longer hamper research. Anyone with an Internet connection can search the text of and read the compelling narratives, historical accounts and classic works offered today, and in doing so access a world of ideas, knowledge and discovery."
Examples of the public domain books available on Google Print today include:
Civil War regimental histories and early American writings from the University of Michigan
Congressional acts and other government documents from Stanford
The works of Henry James from Harvard
Biographies of New York citizens and other collected biographies from the New York Public Library
More information and images of pages from these materials can be found on the Google Blog at http://googleblog.blogspot.com. These works however are just a small fraction of the information that will eventually be made available as a result of Google Print.
Read The Reuters UK story here.
And while we're on the subject of Google, the company also annouced that the Desktop software was coming out of beta with the release of Dsktop 2. The information is available at the Googleblog link above. After getting to the page, scroll down for the Google Print information.
November 2, 2005
Be(A)ware of Sony Audio CD Copy Protection
Various news outlets are reporting that SonyBMG is including copy protection software on selected audio CD's that install rootkits on a user's PC. The software, known as XCP (extended copy protection) hides itself and by all accounts is extremely difficult to remove. In fact, a notice on the SonyBMG site does not give out instructions, but requires consumers to contact customer service through the web site for removal instructions. The disc will not work on the computer after removal.
What makes this software so controversial is that this uses the same techniques that hackers use to hide malicious software. One report indicates that the software hides any files with names starting with $sys$ and can potentially be used by hackers who can latch on to this install to add and hide viruses or spyware on a machine. Sony's packaging is clearly labeled that DRM software is included on the disc. There is an end user license which does inform that software will be installed. Sony representatives say it is adequate, but given the difficulty in removing the software, others question that assertion or the assertion that consumers are adequately informed through the license of the practical results of what is being installed on their machines.
Although I haven't seen the EULA, I wonder what Sony's liability would be if a hacker actually did install a virus or spyware using their DRM methods.
Read the story in PC World here.
For more information on root kits, see the Wikipedia entry here.
Update: Sony will release a patch to anti-virus software manufacturers that will stop the software from hiding, but will not remove it. Consumers can also download a copy of the patch from the Sony BMG web site. Removal will still require contact with customer service. Read the story here.
November 1, 2005
British Teen Acuused in DoS Attack
A British teenager has been accused of violating the U.K.'s Computer Misuse Act by sending his former employer 5 million emails in a denial of service attack. The case is significant because denial of service is not one of the specifically included offenses under the act. The teen is charged under section 3 of the act which covers unauthorized data modification and tampering with systems. His defense will argue that sending the emails is not illegal as there is no modification to the server software and non of the mail messages attempted to install any modifying software.
More details are in the ZDNET story here.
October 31, 2005
Supreme Court (Non) Action in Technology Cases Today
The Supreme Court refused to hear appeals in two cases today that involved unsafe radiation in cell phones and Microsoft's alleged infringement of patents in browser technology.
Class action suits had been filed against manufacturers that they failed to protect consumers from unsafe levels of radiation. The 4th Circuit allowed the cases to go forward. The appeal to the Supreme Court argued that the manufacturers followed federal guidelines and therefore should be immune to such suits. The cases are Nokia Inc. v. Naquin, 05-198, and Cellco Partnership v Pinney, 05-207. The AP story via the Houston Chronicle is here.
Microsoft's appeal regarding a Chicago court's finding that it infringed patents held by Eolas and its business partner, the University of California, over how plug-ins are used in browsers was also denied today. The August 2003 decision from the lower district court was partially overturned by the 7th Circuit. However, a preliminary verdict of $500 million is still pending against Microsft. The story from CNET News is here. The case is Microsoft v. Eolas Technologies, 05-288.