CPRM: The End of Digital Media Piracy?

According to Business Software Alliance, software piracy cost manufacturers about $12 billion (US) worldwide in 1999. But if 4C Entity's Content Protection for Recordable Media (CPRM) specification is adopted, that figure will drop dramatically.

IBM, Intel, Matsushita, and Toshiba, which make up 4C Entity, developed CPRM to help protect DVD-based video and SD memory card media (such as those used in portable MP3 players). 4C Entity has submitted proposals to the National Committee for Information Technology Standards

(NCITS) to adopt the technology as an optional extension to the AT Attachment (ATA) device specifications, such as those used for hard drives and CD-ROM and DVD drives.

If you read the news report from The Register, you'll learn that CPRM has far-reaching ramifications for just about everyone that uses digital media. According to a proposal linked on NCITS' Technical Committee T13 Web site, " CPRM uses encryption technology and a media key block to stop unwanted data movement between devices. In a nutshell, drag-and-drop copying will become a thing of the past. To accomplish this feat, a key block (read-only data) is written to the media at the time of manufacture. 4C Entity generates the 1MB media key block, which calculates a cryptographic key with a one-way key algorithm. The key is then later used in a non-handshaking broadcast to a central management server.

This situation presents a few problems for adopters. For example, you won't be able to restore data backed up from a CPRM-enabled device to a non-CPRM-based device because the non-CPRM-based device won't have a media key block. In addition, you'll need to update backup software, RAID systems, and many other fundamental components to handle CPRM devices because data movement would involve encryption key operations.

If adopted, CPRM will be an optional feature set of the ATA specification, which means even though vendors might comply with the specification, they won't have to activate it as a feature of their software. If major vendors do decide to activate CPRM, businesses might face an all-or-none scenario when adopting new drives and software. And that will undoubtedly be expensive. In addition, the technology could reach into other digital media areas, such as audio CDs and devices such as TiVo and television replay units, which record television shows for later viewing. CPRM could spell the end of audio-track ripping.

According to the Register's report, Microsoft and its OEMs are opposed to CPRM and have submitted a counter-proposal. I couldn't locate any related material at Microsoft's or NCITS' Web sites, but I'll keep an eye out and let you know when I learn anything new. Until next time, have a great week!

TAGS: Security
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