Microsoft explores legal options against hacker

By : |October 23, 2001 0



Sue Zeidler

LOS ANGELES: Microsoft Corp. said on Monday it was looking into its legal
options regarding an unidentified hacker who breached its anti-piracy technology
last week, enabling users to distribute songs without restrictions.

                                 

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Microsoft group product manager Jonathan Usher told Reuters the damage to
Microsoft’s overall digital rights management software would be slight, although
some music on the market had lost its protection.

"We learned about the hack on Friday and were on the phone with our
content partners right away," he said. "We have built in a means to
update the protections for cases such as this, and we’re still implementing that
renewability."

The breach by the anonymous hacker named "Beale Screamer" stripped
the software of protections used by many content providers to protect music and
video online. The identity of the hacker who was distributing the software is
under investigation. "We’re investigating our legal options," Usher
said. "Our real focus right now is working with our content
providers."

Microsoft has said its Windows Media has the broadest reach of any DRM
technology. More than 275 companies have licensed Windows Media DRM to create
secure distribution systems for audio and video content. DRM has become
increasingly important to Microsoft as it moves ahead in the battle over the
market for streaming media.

Last week’s hack had compromised Windows Media audio version 7, which was
released about 18 months ago, Usher said. "The majority of the content is
protected with earlier versions of the DRM," he added. Usher said
Microsoft’s content partners had been very understanding. "We have been
forthright that no technology and no DRM is 100 percent secure," he said,
adding that Microsoft has anticipated hacks such as this.

Users must first purchase a digital music file in order to exploit the
hacker’s software, he said. If they have access to the Screamer software, they
could then strip off the locks on the purchased file and distribute the songs
without restrictions.

In July, Microsoft struck a deal to offer Pressplay, an Internet service
formed by recording giants Vivendi Universal and Sony Corp. on its MSN network,
using Windows Media format and the digital rights software. Pressplay is set to
launch later this fall.

"This doesn’t change Microsoft’s prospects or the recording labels’
positioning. This hack only affected one version of the Microsoft
software," said Aram Sinnreich, analyst with Jupiter Media Metrix.
"DRM technology has not and never will be 100 percent secure. One can
naturally expect this to happen in digital media and business models have to
acknowledge some degree of piracy will happen rather than pretend it
won’t," said Sinnreich.

This is the second time that Microsoft’s DRM technology has been compromised.
Programmers in 1999 breached security features used in Windows Media audio
version 4 the day after it was released, but the company quickly fixed the
problem, it said.

"The fact that they got hacked is no big shock," said GartnerG2
analyst P J McNealy. "This is a high-profile piece of software and not
surprising it was a target."

(C) Reuters Limited.

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