DRMUp one level
Oliver Day is a former corporate hacker turned student. While at eEye Digital Security he wrote audits for the Retina Vulnerability Scanner and was a Principal Security Consultant for @stake. He has written an unpublished book on SAN security and found a variety of exploits in web-based applications. He is contributing to BadVista.org a series of posts about the presence and implications of the “content protection scheme” in Microsoft Windows Vista. This post is the first in that series.
In a controversial technical analysis Peter Gutmann goes into fantastic detail about the recently released Vista operating system and its content protection scheme. One thing became clear to me after reading this analysis. Vista is being marketed to content producers, not consumers. If Windows XP was Microsoft’s attempt to embed a browser into the operating system then Vista is the attempt to embed DRM. Digital Rights Management technology has been applied to literally every ring of the OS architecture.
Vista's target market is content producers and the underlying philosophy of the user experience will be far different then what many consumers expect it will be. Microsoft has attempted to plug the infamous “analog hole” as much as is possible by forcing all data through encryption algorithms. For those unaware of the “costs” of encryption it is sufficiently high. Pushing HD audio and video content through encryption/decryption routines is a tremendous strain on any system currently available and in the near future. Even with the application of Moore's Law a conservative estimate could place affordable and usable systems within this new content system 5 years away. It will be interesting to see how these restrictions will be spun by the large marketing and PR teams since none of these innovations will benefit consumers in any way. The job that has been handed to these PR and marketing teams is to dress up a product designed with every restriction a producer has asked for and make a consumer want to buy it. One of the most quotable lines from the Gutmann analysis sums this up perfectly as, “breaking the legs of Olympic athletes and then rating them based on how fast they can hobble on crutches.”
In the past when I have delivered lectures to web application developers I would caution them to never trust user input. Perhaps developers took this philosophy a little too far. The entire operating system now seems to have turned against the user. Zero tolerance drivers and regulation code will lock the system down if any type of deviance is detected. So called “tilt bits” will signal an attack on the system if anything is found out of the ordinary. These changes won’t enhance user security unfortunately as they were designed to protect only “premium content”. Medical data, credit card numbers, and other private things that do deserve this level of protection are completly ignored. Untrusting of any environmental changes the system will shut down or degrade performance in response to a perceived attack.
This is a marked turn from the past versions of the Microsoft operating system. In the past one could take a hard drive from a Windows OS and drop it into an entirely different system. The new hardware would be detected and drivers applied on the spot. At most a single reboot would bring the user back into a usable system. This type of resilience was what impressed me during the early days of the new Windows architecture. In those days Microsoft was fairly dominant but still pursuing new customers. The new Vista scheme signals to me that they have exhausted new customer acquisition and are now focused on milking their existing market.
In the next post I will look at who benefits (Intel, Hollywood, code obfuscation providers) and who doesn’t (consumers) and some security issues (driver revocations for DDOS)
“Some argue that the consumer gets little or negative ‘benefit’ from this increase, this is false. The consumer gets premium content on their PC”
ATI Technologies, Inc
This is a fair statement. Playing HD content from a Blueray or HD DVD disk is clearly an advantage that end users would appreciate. So in the sense that a benefit is an advantage I would say Levinthal’s statement is accurate. However, benefit can also refer to “profit” which would make his statement questionable. Considering that he mentions ‘negative “benefit”‘ I think we should delve further into this connotation. Profit is the positive difference between the amount spent and the amount earned. So in purely mathematical terms the amount of “cost” to the end user to play premium content must be lower then the amount gained in the operation of HD playback for a profitable expierence. I believe it is safe to assume what the amount gained is, HD playback. What isn’t so clear is what the costs are. In the programmers universe cost is generally associated with amounts of cpu cycles spent solving some problem. Thus if a programmer writes a function for a program which needlessly recomputes values it is considered “expensive”. An accomplished programmer can write elegant solutions which do not incur much cost.
Keeping the previous definition of “cost” in mind I think it is fitting to look into what the premium content protection really costs a user. From this analysis we can make a fair judgement on whether a user profits overall from the ability to play HD content. According to the Microsoft presentations here, here, here, and here the playback of HD content requires no less then two rounds of encryption/decryption before the video is sent to the display. First the video comes from the original HD media in encrypted format and is decoded. That decoded media is then encoded again using the AES algorithm and sent across the PCIe bus. Once it reaches the other side of that bus it is decoded and then sent across the HDMI interface to the display.
Based on my own valuation of HD content playback I would say that the price is either near or exceeding the gain of watching content on my PC. Clearly the price of these computations goes down every 18 months* by 50% according to Moore’s law. This led to my earlier prediction that an affordable and usable system running Vista is perhaps 5 years away. Before I close on this installment I want to give a preview of the next piece I have lined up. This image struck me and has pervaded my thoughts about this article.
This image from a presentation delivered by Dave Marsh (Program Manager, Windows Media Technologies) captures how Microsoft frames this problem. Perhaps not intentional but all too apparent in this image is their end user acting deviously and maliciously hurting Hollywood, Microsoft, and probably America.
* Wikipedia cites Moore as stating 12 months between the doubling of transistors which given my previous statement would reduce the distance of a usable and affordable system 3.3 years away. There are other references in the article that state the chip making industry adheres to the “doubling every 18 months”. My prediction was that of 3.5x current capacities for an affordable system to play back HD content on a Vista PC.
Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing is doing a serialized reading of Peter Gutmann's paper, A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection. If you haven't read the paper yet, your procastination has paid off. You can now have it read to you. It's one of the better resources out there for getting informed about all of the new restrictions that have been smuggled into Vista.
UPDATE: You can find the OGG version here.
One commenter on digg.com asked what the sense of my article is. Is it just that Microsoft Vista will introduce new levels of encryption to the playback of HD content? I wish it were as simple as that. And this goes way beyond the idea that consumers will have to pay for the extra components on the video cards which will not be used if they don’t play HD content. It goes way beyond the fact that pirated HD content is already available which invalidates all their efforts to date. The real issue that warrants your attention is that Microsoft has teamed up with the entertainment industries (RIAA + MPAA) to create an operating system that can control what you do, where you do it, and how you do it. The real issue is that they are collectively pushing degenerative technology which is causing a cultural backslide.
The new features which create “pipelines” to secure audio and video ensure that consumers can not play movies or music on devices that are not approved. More then ever, the industries who produce the entertainment consumed by the masses treat those very same people as potential criminals. Microsoft isn’t kowtowing to demands; they are gladly aiding the entertainment industry to fight a battle they themselves are waging. Piracy affects anyone who distributes products under a restrictive copyright regime. Unlike what many a blog commenter has tried to argue DRM is not free. There are significant costs involved which I have tried to outline in my previous articles in the form of additional hardware, resource usage, engineering time, technical support, and PR spin to counter people like me who are against such things. One commenter on the windowsvistablog was nice enough to extract all six mentions of who is paying for these restrictions. The consumer.
Yet if one were to conduct a survey among users I would find it difficult to believe that anyone would list DRM high on their wish list. It’s difficult to imagine someone asking for “computers which run software you can’t see, can’t understand, can’t control, and which reports to other people what is going on in your network without your ability to interrupt or do anything?”. Even if the payoff is the ability to play back HD content from major studios. This is the leverage that Microsoft has touted from the beginning and their hope is that consumers value this “ability” so highly as to turn a blind eye to the degenerative methodologies embedded in the very core of their new operating system.
Part of the adherence to the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) specifications is the deliberate obfuscation of drivers and the withdrawal of open hardware specifications. When an approved device is given a piece of HD content the operating system begins negotiating with the device to verify that it is real and authentic. To accomplish this, undocumented calls are made to the device verifying that it is not a fake device intent on viewing unencrypted frames of the premium content. How does this affect you? Dave Marsh responded that “HFS uses additional chip characteristics other than those needed to write a driver. HFS requirements should not prevent the disclosure of all the information needed to write drivers.” What he doesn’t mention is that the authors of the drivers for future video hardware are under contract to obfuscate their code and keep their specifications closed. Closed specifications affect hardware design for ALL operating systems. Free software driver developers will find less and less publicly available documentation. One of the commenters on my original post had a great response which I’m including here.
“I don’t care about ‘premium content’, neither copied nor purchased, and yet I, as a software developer, have to live with the fact that it’s hard to use 3D graphics cards using free drivers. Thanks to the deal between the likes of MPAA-Microsoft-ATI, the situation won’t improve, it will only get worse. “
Our joint statement with Friends of the Earth International, the Green Party, People and Planet and the New Internationalist calling for a free society based on free software has now been signed 600+ more times over by activists around the world.
If you haven't yet, please add your signature to the statement calling on activist groups and individuals of all stripes to reject Microsoft Windows Vista and pursue free "as in freedom" software like GNU/Linux. Help us demonstrate how much support there is for a digital world without arbitrary restrictions on the freedoms we need to be effective agents for political change.
Word is out that Windows Vista Service Pack 1 is in Beta mode. Reviewers mention that it is relatively unchanged, i.e., it is still running as a giant piece of proprietary malware, but, that it is running a little bit faster (one report takes a shot at it claiming that it is almost as fast as Windows 98). Unfortunately, Service Pack 1 still leaves Vista designed to restrict what users can do with their software.
So, my advice is: don't wait for Service Pack 1. Despite the free software worlds constant battle to acquire hardware specifications (often reverse engineering them) in order to develop free software drivers, GNU/Linux still supports far more hardware than Vista ever will. One of the reasons for this is because Vista needs certain hardware requirements to implement Digital Restrictions Management schemes and Trusted Computing schemes so that the hardware and the software can restrict how you can use your software, your data, and all of your multi-media content. I'm not sure you can run GNU/Linux on a shoebox, but you certainly don't need a top of the line machine like Vista requires. Most distributions run on anything from your old 12-pound laptop from the early 90s to the latest and greatest super-computer cluster, as well as most everything in between. When you install GNU/Linux, you decide if you want to stay on the cutting edge and be a "beta tester," or you can choose to run a heavily tested and stable version of an application. GNU/Linux is not designed to restrict the user.
In fact, free software carries freedom to the user. Microsoft claims absolute ownership over their software, but, with free
software, you have all the same rights as developers do to use, to
change, to share (even to sell) the software to whomever, and for
whatever purpose you see fit -- and, as long as you continue to pass along those same freedoms to everyone else, it will always be free software. So, don't wait for SP1, install your favorite GNU/Linux distribution today, and be a part of a thriving and respectful community that values your freedom of choice and your freedom to do what you wish with your software, your data, and your multimedia content.
Recently it emerged that Microsoft is removing the "kill switch" from Vista.
When you install Vista, Microsoft claims that you consent to being spied upon, through the "Windows Genuine Advantage" system. This system tries to identify instances of copying that Microsoft thinks are illegitimate. This system includes a "kill switch" which allows Microsoft to remotely deactivate your copy of Vista. This deactivation, whether deliberate or by accident -- as has been the case in some 500,000 cases already according to a study last year -- locks you out of your computer, and forces you to contact Microsoft to get access to your files.
While they may have now ostensibly removed the kill switch from Vista, they have not updated the hostile license they say you must agree to in order to use Vista. Vista still restricts your freedom, because freedom at the whim of someone else is not freedom.
Vista still enforces Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) -- technologies that companies like Disney, Warner, Netflix, Universal, Apple, Sony, Amazon, Fox and Microsoft are trying to impose on us all in order to have control over how our computers are used.
The public backlash that led to the kill switch in Vista being "removed" is a sign that people want software freedom. Today, Microsoft cannot offer people what they want. Thankfully, all is not lost -- free software distributions of the GNU/Linux operating system offer that freedom today. One lesson we should all take from this is that if we speak loudly enough, and demand software freedom, it can have results. But we also shouldn't be fooled -- Microsoft has just hidden the kill switch behind its back, still claiming the authority to use it. More pressure is still needed, and the only thing that will work in the end is for Microsoft to release their software under a license that respects the freedom of computer users.
If you put Microsoft at the center of your home entertainment system, be prepared to hand them the remote control, literally.
Following reports that digital television viewers were blocked from recording the new season of NBC's "Gladiators", Microsoft confirmed that it is preventing users from recording the show. They claim they were acting on behalf of NBC, and are in line with regulations set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in disrupting computer usage based upon the so-called "broadcast flag" that was transmitted alongside the show.
A Microsoft spokesperson told CNET News, "...Windows Media Center fully adheres to the flags used by broadcasters and content owners to determine how their content is distributed and consumed."
What is the broadcast flag?
The broadcast flag is a sequence of information transmitted alongside television programs as a kind of digital order telling viewers to not do certain things, such as record the show or share it with a friend.
Many of the large media companies and the FCC tried to make obeying the broadcast flag a law. However, the Electronic Frontier Foundation took the FCC to court, and US Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC had exceeded its authority, and that no such law could exist. Despite this ruling, it appears that Microsoft has decided to work directly with media companies to implement these rules anyway, restricting how and when you watch television.
Building such a system is no trivial task. To do this, Microsoft has gone to great lengths to restrict users from saving a television program to their computers, we call this kind of functionality an "antifeature," because it takes more work for Microsoft to prevent the user from saving the program, than if they were to leave just the default behavior alone. So instead of letting you record programs as you normally would, it locks you out and deletes the show before you can save it.
However, Microsoft hasn't just made a little tweak to their software to do this -- they have compiled an entire system built upon antifeatures. This antifeature platform is integrated into their Windows Media software and forms the basis of their Windows Vista operating system, and they are working hard to convince companies like NBC, that Microsoft can be in control of how and when you get to watch television. As creepy and as ridiculous as it may sound, this is their business strategy, and by getting this control, both the television and movie industry and computer users will be tied to Microsoft software.
Don't be fooled into their claims that they are following regulations by the FCC -- the court ruled that the FCC has no power to make such regulations. This is also claimed as a measure just to stop unauthorized file sharing, yet what Microsoft is doing is trying to make sure that they are on every end of the market, from how it is delivered, to how you watch it. As Ars Technica reporter Jacqui Cheng puts it, this is not about Microsoft preventing people from sharing files without permission, "[i]t's about the ability to strictly control how we consume content".
Microsoft wants to have that control, and this software is the way they are trying to get it. Software that is designed in this way is known as 'DRM', which stands for 'Digital Rights Management', and yet it is really just another way to restriction how consumers interact with things on their own computers and devices. Because of this restriction, we refer to DRM as 'Digital Restrictions Management'.
The alternative to DRM: free software
By far the best way to avoid DRM, is to refuse to use software that is infected with it. Better yet, you should choose software that tries to do the opposite of DRM -- software that gives you complete control. This kind of software is called "free software," and it is based upon the idea that software carries certain freedoms to you:
The freedom to use the software for any reason you wish -- including to the ability to hit the save button when you* wish.
The freedom to examine how the software works and make changes, similar to a car engine -- you can remove the bugs or soup it up.
The freedom to share the software with your neighbor, like photocopying a newspaper article or sharing class notes with a classmate.
The freedom to share your modified software with other people, similar to how mathematics and science have worked for centuries.
Now you may not be a computer programmer, or know how to understand or change computer programs, but there are plenty of people out there who do, and they are likely already making the kinds of fixes and changes you'd like to see, or are often part of a community willing to make those changes for you.
There are thousands of free software programmers, and many thousands of free software programs, and even complete free software operating systems. You usually won't find annoying antifeatures in a program, and if there were one, you can rest assured that other programmers will have removed it by the time you get to use it.
Conversely, software that doesn't give you these freedoms is software you cannot control, and we think that kind of software doesn't belong on your computer. We say, 'free software, free society' -- with free software, if we are each in control of our machines, then we are all in control of how we use them and what we use them for.
And, don't let Apple fool you into thinking that they are the alternative to DRM and Microsoft, they, too have their own DRM schemes, and seek to control the world in their own way, from branding their DRM music player, to entrenching the world in their proprietary formats and DRM music purchasing programs.
The alternative to Windows and Apple is software that you control, software that is guaranteed to give you all of the freedoms you need to be in control. Free software.
There is a good chance you are already using free software, directly, such as using the Firefox web browser, or indirectly, by visiting a Web site that is sending you web pages with the Apache web-server. However, there are also entire, user-friendly operating systems that you can install on almost any laptop or desktop computer. So, if you are running Windows or Mac OS, consider replacing these with a free software based GNU/Linux operating system, such as gNewSense.
Using free software will take the control out of Microsoft's hands. With free software, you are in control.
: You can read Mako Hill's article on antifeatures, here: http://www.fsf.org/bulletin/2007/fall/antifeatures/
: It should be noted that this writer refers to a person that shares files as a "pirate," we think this is a bit of an extreme description that should be avoided. http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080514-nbc-vista-copy-protection-snafu-reminds-us-why-drm-stinks.html
: gNewSense, a free software distribution of GNU/Linux http://www.gnewsense.org/