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Sony's "khesterex thath" with anti-piracy software
By Scott Bradner
The latest entry in the 'all my customers are thieves' parade is Sony music but no one could see Sony marching along. Sony was finally discovered in this parade when a researcher found and disabled the Klingon-like cloaking system that Sony had surreptitiously installed in PCs that had been used to legally play some Sony music CDs. The discovery raised quite a ruckus - just like the last time a music company tried to surreptitiously put restrictions on the buyer's ability to use the product they bought - one would think that the music companies would learn someday to just be clear about what they are doing.
The arrogance of companies that surreptitiously install software when the customer uses a product as it is intended to be used is quite amazing. They act as if the only use of the user's PC is in conjunction with their product. They do not ever think of what would happen if all vendors installed their own special software -- the user's PC could quickly become unusable due to hundreds of programs running at the same time - each one designed as if it were the only one running.
But the situation with the Sony system is a particularly bad one - not only does Sony surreptitiously install software in your machine but the software could be used to hide all sorts of malware. With this demonstration Sony has also told the bad guys how to make their evil addware, spyware etc even harder to find and eliminate. Internet researcher Mark Russinovich posted a very detailed description of the Sony abomination and how it works at http://www.sysinternals.com/blog/2005/10/sony-rootkits-and-digital-rights.html. Even worse, hundreds of other companies and Internet attackers could decide to write and surreptitiously install their own cloaking software on your computer. Each of these could be hiding different sets of programs.
Once installed by listening to a Sony music CD on your PC the Sony software renders invisible any program whose name begins with $sys$. That is a very useful function if you are in the business of stealing secrets from unsuspecting PC users. You can render invisible any software, big or small -- just like the Klingon cloaking device on Star Trek. Who knew that Sony was a Klingon front company - well, come to think of it - that might explain the text in some of the instructions I've seen from them over the years - maybe they were partially translated from Klingon.
Sony installing any software on your computer just because you want to listen to music that you legally purchased is a bad idea, but not making it clear that this is the bargain the user has agreed to is cheating. It is cheating when a company does not have the guts to be up front about the bargain so a potential purchaser can decide if they want to buy a product that requires agreeing with that bargain .
According to one of the Klingon web sites there is an old Klingon saying that goes "When you choose to cheat to win a battle, you have already lost." I expect Sony has managed to lose a battle it might otherwise have at least fought to a draw by trying to hide what it was doing - a "khesterex thath" indeed. (Klingon for "Screwed up situation".)
disclaimer: As far as I can find out Harvard does not offer a class in Klingon (or in cloaking software or devices) so the above observation must be mine.