Sony's DRM 'rootkit'

Record companies have never been upheld as paragons of virtue but, even by the music industry’s standards, the nature of the latest CD copy restriction measures imposed by Sony is disturbing.

An excellent piece of detective work by Mark Russinovich of Sysinternals uncovered Sony’s latest underhand DRM tactics, which he describes as a ‘rootkit’ - the term rootkit is generally applied to tools and techniques that are used by hackers to hide malware from security tools.

A scan on Russinovich’s PC uncovered hidden code, which he was able to trace back to digital rights management software that was bundled with a Sony CD, ironically titled ‘Get Right with the Man’ by the Van Zant brothers.

The software forces music to be played through a media player that ships with the CD and limits the number of copies that can be made. The copy restriction files came disguised under the name Essential System tools

The fact that Sony is dumping hidden DRM software onto machine without a user’s approval is bad enough but it gets worse. Attempting to get rid of the parasitic code presents its own host of problems - there is no uninstall option and Russinovich warns: "Users that stumble across the cloaked files with a RKR scan will cripple their computer if they attempt the obvious step of deleting the cloaked files,"

So in short, it seems we have a particularly scurrilous bit of hidden software that messes with users’ operating systems and can cripple a machine if removal is attempted. And record companies wonder why they have a problem with piracy.

Update: for more on this subject see Sony’s DRM ‘rootkit’ patch doesn’t go far enough