Update: Sony DRM patch might crash Windows

Risk is small, but fix could crash OS during installation

A software patch released by Sony BMG Music Entertainment in response to an uproar over its XCP CD copy protection software may cause some computers to crash, according to the computer expert at the heart of the controversy. On Friday, Winternals Software LP Chief Software Architect Mark Russinovich published further research into Sony's XCP copy protection software that discusses this patch problem and raises new privacy concerns about the product.

Russinovich said that a design flaw in Sony's patch theoretically could cause a computer to crash as the software was installed. Though the risk of such an occurrence was small, Russinovich said that the problem was a further mark against Sony's reputation. "It's obvious that whoever's written this doesn't have all that much experience in writing drivers for Windows," he said in an interview Friday.

Sony released the patch on Wednesday in response to complaints from computer enthusiasts that XCP (Extended Copy Protection) used methods commonly associated with spyware and viruses to make itself nearly impossible to detect or remove from a PC. If the software were to slow down a computer's performance or somehow be exploited by hackers, it could be extremely difficult to repair, according to critics such as Russinovich.

The patch makes XCP visible to system tools and antivirus products.

Sony licenses XCP from a Banbury, U.K., company called First 4 Internet Ltd. and began shipping the software with some of its CDs earlier this year, in order to restrict unauthorized copying. Sony executives have said that only about 20 music titles have shipped with the software.

First 4 Chief Executive Officer Mathew Gilliat-Smith declined to comment for this story, but he directed IDG News Service to a comment on Russinovich's Web log, which disputed the Windows researcher's conclusions.

The posting, which was written by an unidentified XCP employee, according to Gilliat-Smith, called Russinovich's conclusions about a possible system crash "Pure conjecture."

In his Web log posting Friday, Russinovich also published further research showing that the XCP software appears to be in communication with Sony's Web site, something that had not previously been disclosed.

The client appears to connect with Sony's servers looking for updates to lyrics or album art, but the way the software operates raises some privacy concerns, Russinovich said. "I doubt Sony is doing anything with the data, but with this type of connection their servers could record each time a copy-protected CD is played and the IP address of the computer playing it," he wrote in his blog posting.

Sony is not using the software to gather information on its users, said company spokesman John McKay. "No information ever gets gathered, that's for sure," he said.

Russinovich's Friday blog entry can be found here: http://www.sysinternals.com/blog/2005/11/more-on-sony-dangerous-decloaking.html

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