By BRIAN BERGSTEIN
The Associated Press
November 15, 2005
BOSTON -- The fallout from a hidden copy-protection program that Sony
BMG Music Entertainment put on some CDs is only getting worse. Sony's
suggested method for removing the program actually widens the security
hole the original software created, researchers say.
Sony apparently has moved to recall the discs in question, but music
fans who have listened to them on their computers or tried to remove
the dangerous software they deposited could still be vulnerable.
"This is a surprisingly bad design from a security standpoint," said
Ed Felten, a Princeton University computer science professor who
explored the removal program with a graduate student, J. Alex
Halderman. "It endangers users in several ways."
The "XCP" copy-protection program was included on at least 20 CDs,
including releases by Van Zant, The Bad Plus, Neil Diamond and Celine
When the discs were put into a PC _ a necessary step for transferring
music to iPods and other portable music players _ the CD automatically
installed a program that restricted how many times the discs' tracks
could be copied, and made it extremely inconvenient to transfer songs
into the format used by iPods.
That antipiracy software _ which works only on Windows PCs _ came with
a cloaking feature that allowed it to hide files on users' computers.
Security researchers classified the program as "spyware," saying it
secretly transmits details about what music the PC is playing. Manual
attempts to remove the software can disable the PC's CD drive.
The program also gave virus writers an easy tool for hiding their
malicious software. Last week, virus-like "Trojan horse" programs
emerged that took advantage of the cloaking feature to enter computers
undetected, antivirus companies said. Trojans are typically used to
steal personal information, launch attacks on other computers and send
Stung by the controversy, Sony BMG and the company that developed the
antipiracy software, First 4 Internet Ltd. of Oxfordshire, United
Kingdom, released a program that uninstalls XCP.
But the uninstaller has created a new set of problems.
To get the uninstall program, users have to request it by filling out
online forms. Once submitted, the forms themselves download and
install a program designed to ready the PC for the fix. Essentially,
it makes the PC open to downloading and installing code from the
According to the Princeton analysis, the program fails to make the
computer confirm that such code should come only from Sony or First 4
"The consequences of the flaw are severe," Felten and Halderman wrote
in a blog posting Tuesday. "It allows any Web page you visit to
download, install, and run any code it likes on your computer. Any Web
page can seize control of your computer; then it can do anything it
likes. That's about as serious as a security flaw can get."
Sony BMG spokesman John McKay did not return calls seeking comment.
First 4 Internet was not making any comment, according to Lynette
Riley, the office manager who answered the company's phone Tuesday
evening in England.
Mark Russinovich, the security researcher who first discovered the
hidden Sony software, is advising users who played one of the CDs on
their computer to wait for the companies to release a stand-alone
uninstall program that doesn't require filling out the online form.
"There's absolutely no excuse for Sony not to make one immediately
available," he wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.
Other programs that knock out the original software are also likely to
emerge. Microsoft Corp. says the next version of its tool for removing
malicious software, which is automatically sent to PCs via Windows
Update each month, will yank the cloaking feature in XCP.
Sony BMG said Friday it would halt production of CDs with XCP
technology and pledged to "re-examine all aspects of our content
protection initiative." On Monday night, USA Today's Web site reported
that Sony BMG would recall the CDs in question.
=A9 2005 The Associated Press
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