September 1, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Hackers crack Apple, Microsoft music codes

In the continuation of a long-running arms race, both Apple Computer and Microsoft have seen their music protection technologies come under fire in recent days.

In the past month, separate programs have emerged to strip away the digital rights management (DRM) tools that the two technology giants use to protect music from unauthorized duplication. One of the programs counteracts Microsoft's Windows Media DRM, while the other targets Apple's FairPlay.

Both companies have long dealt with hackers finding a way to circumvent their content protections. To maintain the confidence of the record labels and other content providers, the tech giants have to scramble to close the holes. But even though they have largely been able to do so, the fixes tend to be temporary as new holes are found.

"This is not terribly unusual," said Gartner analyst Michael McGuire. "I don't think it is a weekly occurrence, but it happens."

In the Microsoft case, a program called FairUse4WM cropped up in a forum on Aug. 19. It offers a rather straightforward means to remove the DRM technology used by music download and subscription sites that use Windows Media Player 10 and Windows Media Player 11 encoding.

Microsoft worked quickly to patch the hole, offering an update this week to those that license its technology.

"Microsoft is aware that a tool recently surfaced that circumvents Windows Media Digital Rights Management technology--breaking the content protection that our content partners apply to their intellectual property such as music or video content," Microsoft senior product manager Marcus Matthias said in a statement. "Fortunately, the Windows Media DRM system has built-in renewability, we have an update to address the circumvention, and are working with our partners to deploy this solution."

On the Apple side this week, a program called QTFairUse6 emerged that uses iTunes itself to do some of the decoding work. In that case, though, a fair bit of programming work is required to remove the content restrictions.

Apple has yet to issue an update to its software and an Apple representative declined to comment on the matter.

Although Microsoft has already created a fix to close its DRM hole, it is up to individual music services to implement the patch.

"We immediately updated our service," a Napster representative said. A RealNetworks representative said the company was "in the process of implementing the patch," but declined to say how long the update would take. Representatives for Yahoo and MTV Networks did not return calls seeking comment.

Both Apple and Microsoft have been dealing with cracks in their armor for some time. In November 2003, Norwegian programmer Jon Johansen posted a program called QTFairUse that helped evade FairPlay's copy protection restrictions. Other programs emerged that tried to expand Apple's abilities to stream music over a local network into a means of actually swapping files.

Microsoft has also had to deal with many similar incidents, since at least as far back as 1999.

When it comes to patching holes, the two companies have somewhat different approaches. Apple typically issues updates to the iTunes software itself, often adding in other features in addition to security-related changes. Microsoft, meanwhile, typically offers patches just to the DRM technology, meaning that those who use its technology can patch their software and services without having to upgrade their entire program. Such was the case with the patch Microsoft issued this week.

"Microsoft has long stated that no DRM system is impervious to circumvention--a position our content partners are aware of as well," Matthias said. "That is why we designed the Windows Media DRM system to be renewable, so that if such events occur, the system can be refreshed to address them."

Gartner analyst McGuire said both approaches can work. The key is that the updates--however they are handled--should not become so onerous that users become frustrated and leery of digital music.

"There is a risk that people kind of throw up their hands," he said.

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50 comments

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Um..ORLY?
"...separate programs have emerged to strip away the DRM tools that the two technology giants use to protect music from unauthorized duplication."

Um... the DRM tools are hardly used primarily to protect music form duplication anymore; they are used to lock users into a proprietary digital system.
Posted by toosday (343 comments )
Reply Link Flag
YA RLY
Since iTunes lets you listen to a given m4p on only 5 different machines, yeah, it's used to prevent unauthorized duplication.

But that's what you're agreeing to when you buy from the ITMS. Don't like it? Buy the CD and rip DRM free. The choice and the money are yours. Speak with your wallet.

-SD-
Posted by SteveDave2 (34 comments )
Link Flag
No Hack Needed
That a hack exists to break the DRM is irrelevant. There are programs available for free online that will convert WMAs to MP3s while retaining great sound quality.

I buy the great majority of my music legally from either Napster or MSN Music, both of which sell DRM'd tracks. But since I take advantage of fair use and copy them from my home machine to my laptop, mp3 player, and work desktop, I get rid of the DRM.

Sure I'm probably violating the TOS but I'm the only one with access to all those machines so only I hear those tracks. To me, that equals fair use.
Posted by JerzeyRich (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The funny thing is
if more people behaved like you and actually honored the concept of 'fair use', we wouldn't be in this DRM mess to begin with.
Posted by catch23 (436 comments )
Link Flag
Is all that necessary in Windows world?
Apple allows DRMed content to be played on all the devices you named. That is the reason that the claims people who want to steal music make about Apple and DRM fall flat. Apple's DRM is quite liberal.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
Lossy transcoding is not a solution
If you convert from one lossy codec to another, you necessarilly end up with a lower quality sound file. Given that the WMV and AAC are already inferior to CD Audio, that is not an acceptable solution.

I probably would never buy a lossy audio file, but I definitely would never buy a DRMed lossy file. What happens if that apple or MS's DAPs are crap in 10 years and you want a Pioneer model (or whatever). If you bought your stuff from iTunes or whatever MS's store is, you have to rebuy your music, illegally strip DRM or transcode and end up with a file that sounds worse.

Would any of us buy a CD if it could only be played on one brand of CD player? If you had Vinyl, did it only work on a specific brand of turn table? No it did not and neither should sound files.

I believe artists should be paid for their music, but the best thing that could happen is if the RIAA lost some major cases that forced them to either remove DRM or allow a person who purchased a WMV file to get an AAC version or vice versa.
Posted by notgonnatellya (65 comments )
Link Flag
Lossy transcoding is not a solution
If you convert from one lossy codec to another, you necessarilly end up with a lower quality sound file. Given that the WMV and AAC are already inferior to CD Audio, that is not an acceptable solution.

I probably would never buy a lossy audio file, but I definitely would never buy a DRMed lossy file. What happens if that apple or MS's DAPs are crap in 10 years and you want a Pioneer model (or whatever). If you bought your stuff from iTunes or whatever MS's store is, you have to rebuy your music, illegally strip DRM or transcode and end up with a file that sounds worse.

Would any of us buy a CD if it could only be played on one brand of CD player? If you had Vinyl, did it only work on a specific brand of turn table? No it did not and neither should sound files.

I believe artists should be paid for their music, but the best thing that could happen is if the RIAA lost some major cases that forced them to either remove DRM or allow a person who purchased a WMV file to get an AAC version or vice versa.
Posted by notgonnatellya (65 comments )
Link Flag
Theres one way that nothing can prevent!
theres a simple way using a higher end sound card and sound recorder to defeat any copy protection around!
Posted by chris11-1 (15 comments )
Link Flag
Oh, the PAIN of the Upgrade!
"Apple typically issues updates to the iTunes software itself,
often adding in other features in addition to security-related
changes. Microsoft, meanwhile, typically offers patches just to
the DRM technology, meaning that those who use its technology
can patch their software and services without having to upgrade
their entire program. Such was the case with the patch Microsoft
issued this week."

I'm switching to Microsoft so that when their DRM is broken
again I won't have to upgrade my entire program. LOL
Posted by GatesOfHell (210 comments )
Reply Link Flag
DRM: A NON-ISSUE
Once the music has been downloaded, simply burn an audio cd of it. Then, use any program to rip it from your disc in unprotected MP3 with WMP or MusicMatch free jukebox. DRM is gone! >POOF!<
Posted by MadHackerMike (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Because, as we all know
CD's grow on trees.
Posted by Tomcat Adam (272 comments )
Link Flag
First things first
Those who crack, are called Crackerz...breakers...reenigne....etc. They're not hackers!
NEwayz, I couldnt agree with Toosday more, they're trying to lock you into their format for the long haul!
This word is called, Interoperability you sons of B*tches!!! The consumers want it, the teX want it, but those b@stards are too interested in making cash!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by brilo (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
DRM encourages illegal downloading
I've always tried to be legal and would purchase my music from buymusic.com. At $.99 a song it was reasonable to me. Then they introduced this DRM crap and I found that I could no longer copy newly paid for and downloaded music to my MP3 player. I only have the one device for crying out loud. So I found I was paying for music I could not use, then downloading the same music on LimeWire just to be able to listen to what I paid for. Rediculous! DRM is a useless deterent for those people who are willing to legally pay for music and doesn't stop those that will illigally download. This concept simply needs to be abandoned.
Posted by markdmac (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Downloaded anything from LimeWire lately?
Like many people who break the law you are full of rationalizations. That doesn't make your behavior any more legal than if you were not.

Furthermore, you are a liar. There was never a time when the iTunes Music Store did not have DRM.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
Gee
Since Napster and other peer to peer services existed YEARS before
DRM, I'd have to have to say you're wrong.
Illegal downloading came WAAAAY before DRM ever saw the light
of day.
Posted by GGGlen (491 comments )
Link Flag
What a sad time.
I got into music fairly recently, about 2 years ago.
I could never justify the cost of CDs because I didn't really know what I liked so I was led astray into some dodgy practices by some of my other cheapskate friends. But in a way that helped as I discovered the sort of music I like (Black Sabbath, RATM, Audioslave, Eagles, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Rush) and it meant I could go and buy CDs with confidence that I'd like them and now I've got a fairly substantial collection on my iPod and some ITMS tracks and I'm happy.


The moral of the story buy CDs while you can, remember the XCP rootkit? We must all destroy Sony as it is evil, cocky, stupid and only wants to make money instead of bettering the products it makes.

Oh and stop blaming Apple and MS for DRM blame the greedy fools at the record companies who are single handedly destroying their own market by driving people to illegal music and then suing them !?
Posted by grandmasterdibbler (78 comments )
Reply Link Flag
the record comanies/RIAA/CRIA are the most greedy groups around
The artists make an album, they get a major deal, they sell it on ITMS, the label takes home 50%, the artists take home 10%! So lets see who's getting rich, THE LABEL, yet theyre the ones claiming that theyre losing money! NEWS FLASH!! THE ARTISTS ARE DOING ALL THE WORK, PAY THEM ACCORDINGLY!!!
Posted by chris11-1 (15 comments )
Link Flag
Locks Don't Stop Thieves, they just keep the Honest People Honest
There is ALWAYS a way to make a copy of a song or video.

Put a mirror in front of your monitor, and you can watch two versions of a movie at once.

Put a camera and a microphone there, and you have a copy.

The honest person won't bother. The videophile won't accept the poor quality.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Reply Link Flag
pwned (cracked again!!)
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.engadget.com/2006/09/02/fairuse4wm-peeps-stay-one-step-ahead-of-microsoft" target="_newWindow">http://www.engadget.com/2006/09/02/fairuse4wm-peeps-stay-one-step-ahead-of-microsoft</a>
Posted by jsac77 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The problem with DRM
DRM does a very important job. It makes the content providers happy. No provider will put their catalog of music or videos out there without some sort of protection and that's what DRM provides: The illusion of protection.

When itunes first made the scene, I installed it and found a nice like called "Free download of the week". I kept clicking it each week and I kept download a free song, each week. Add to that the music that pepsi was giving away and soon I had a cd's worth of music. Now, how to get it from itunes to my mp3 player, which wasn't an ipod? Simple, burn a cd, then rip the cd using my favorite music cd ripping software and bingo, problem solved and without breaking anyone's DRM or violating the DMCA.
Posted by thedreaming (573 comments )
Reply Link Flag
U can just burn iTunes music and rip the disc
How hard is that? Burn your DRM music to a CD, then rip it back license-free. Don't need special programs or security holes for that...
Posted by yipching (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Problem....
If you care at all about sound quality, the burn and rip scheme is useless. You take a lossy file, decompress it with the loss still there, and recompress it adding more loss.

What people are doing is trying to circumvent DRM without loosing any more sound quality than they already have.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
Crack this! Cheapest iPod i've seen
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.white.in/result.php?Keywords=Cheapest+iPods" target="_newWindow">http://www.white.in/result.php?Keywords=Cheapest+iPods</a> has the cheapest ipods I've seen in a while.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Musicstacker does not care aboout drm
Musicstacker process your music and produced a legal copy that has no drm. Check it out at www.musicstacker.com

Music stacker is a general all purpose music remastering tool. Dont play the drm game.
Posted by master1m (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Musicstacker does not care aboout drm
Musicstacker process your music and produced a legal copy that has no drm. Check it out at www.musicstacker.com

Music stacker is a general all purpose music remastering tool. Dont play the drm game.
Posted by master1m (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fast turnaround on pluuging DRM holes
I wish Microsoft moved so quickly to patch security holes in the rest of the software (IE, OFFICE and Windows)
Posted by jayperk (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
well if i talk about what happens in asian countries is just piracy of everything, you talk about DRM, i believe if they are so concerned about buying the original one then what do you say about torrent sites and p2p, well the thing if one buys music or software they just dont care after that and they let it get pirated and if they are so concerned about customers then i find their customers to be the culprits for their cause. and if i talk about apple and windows, then, their softwares are available for not more than 1$ in markets.lol
Posted by bhup22 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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