The Corpus Callosum

Disturbing Report About Microsoft Vista

It’s kind of technical, but interesting if you care about the inner
workings of the machine you are using to read this post.
 Microsoft Vista has built in an elaborate system to prevent
copying of protected digital content.  In so doing, Microsoft
has imposted stringent requirements on hardware manufacturers.
 They also have created a system that will have built-in
performance penalties.  The digital content will have to be
encrypted and decrypted many times, as it passes from the DVD drive, to
the CPU, the sound card, the video card.  All that adds
overhead to the various processors.  It also makes systems
much more expensive to design, build, and upgrade.

What is more disturbing, as the author points out, is that the system
deliberately degrades its performance if it detects something out of
line.  The author speculates about the potential for malware.
 He refers to all the little security checks as “grenade
pins,” meaning that if one is triggered, the system can become unusable:

With the number of easily-accessible grenade pins
that Vista’s content protection provides, any piece of malware that
decides to pull a few of them will cause considerable damage. The
homeland security implications of this seem quite serious, since a
tiny, easily-hidden piece of malware would be enough to render a
machine unusable, while the very nature of Vista’s content protection
would make it almost impossible to determine why the denial-of-service
is occurring.


So if he is right, this built-in content protection system will be a
target-rich environment for virus writers.  It’s too early to
tell, of course, but it is something to be concerned about.


  1. #1 Brian X
    December 27, 2006

    Ugh, digital content protection is a hassle. I hit that wall not too long ago futzing with my cable box — after I finally managed to get it working again after I rendered it nearly nonfunctional with bad menu settings, the TV complained that the content protection on the HDMI port had been compromised and refused to work. There really isn’t even any good reason for it — HDMI would be great for high-bandwidth HDTV switching and editing, but the entertainment industry, with its adversarial relationship with its customers, simply doesn’t want the lumpenproletariat to get their hands on good technology, because they might lose money and will definitely lose control.

  2. #2 Rob Knop
    December 27, 2006

    “Treacherous Computing.”

    That’s what the FSF people call TP (which I suppose all the industry people think we should call “Trusted Comptuing.”)

    We’ve seen this coming for years. DRM has been creeping up. We knew it was going to be fully implemented with the next MS operating system.

    My sincere hope is that this turns out to be enough of a hassle, and that MS is slow enough in patching it, that people en masse finally wake up to what’s going on and apply market pressure, or whatever that is, to make the entertainment industry and their computer industry shills realize that this attempted central takeover of all of our computers isn’t going to fly.

    Or, I do hope that a lot of early-adopter Vista users find their systems taken down by dint of being a target-rich environment for viruses. Nasty of me to hope that, I suppose, but all the ranting in the world that the FSF does will not cause anybody to actually change anything about the way that central control of all general-purposes computers is going.

    ‘Cause if this ubiquitous copyright police stuff does fly… it will make me very sad. It’s already illegal for me to download the software that lets me watch legally purchased DVDs on my Linux machine. I suspect it may never be even possible to watch an HD-DVD, or whatever the next format is, if there is enough stuff at the hardware layer to prevent Linux from working around it. Then again, I suppose I do have some faith in the ingenuity of the DVD-Jon’s of the world to work around the stupidity… as long as they don’t all get thrown in jail.


  3. #3 Jeff Knapp
    December 27, 2006

    That Micro$quish would have the ability to shut my system down, disable my hardware without any sort of due process is scary. This smacks of the ultimate in Big Brother type thinking. Ultimately, it is going to take a legal remedy after a long, ugly series of fights in the courts to undo what is being done to us. When enough critical systems wind up disabled because Vista incorrectly (or correctly) detected some sort of unauthorized playing of “premium content,” that is when people will start to take notice and demand that this draconian, anti-consumer scheme be abandoned.

    In the mean time, I will stick with my Apple Macs and the the Mac OS X which has no such DRM systems in place at the hardware level like this. I am free to play with and author my “premium content” as I please. While iTunes does incorporate a nasty bit of DRM, it is software only, not at the hardware or device driver level. Once the DRM is (quite easily) dealt with, I can manipulate and use that “premium content” as I see fit. For me, this has typically been in the form of recompressing TiVo recordings and DVDs into QuickTime files that I can watch on my laptop while on the road.

    I am also quite confident that no matter how onerous M$ makes their DRM scheme, how tightly they try to lock their system down, it will only be a matter of a (likely short) period of time before it, like ALL copy protection and DRM schemes before it, will be defeated.

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