August 6, 2020

Archives for November 2005

Don't Use Sony's Web-based XCP Uninstaller

Alex Halderman and I have confirmed that Sony’s Web-based XCP uninstallation utility exposes users to serious security risk. Under at least some circumstances, running Sony’s Web-based uninstaller opens a huge security hole on your computer. We have a working demonstration exploit.

We are working furiously to nail down the details and will report our results here as soon as we can. [UPDATE (Nov. 15): We have now posted more details.]

In the meantime, we recommend strongly against downloading or running Sony’s Web-based XCP uninstaller.

Kudos to Muzzy for first suggesting that such a hole might exist.

UPDATE: If you’re technically sophisticated, and you have run the XCP uninstaller on your computer, you may be able to help us in our investigations. It won’t take long. Please contact Alex to volunteer. Thanks.

Sony Shipping Spyware from SunnComm, Too

Now that virus writers have started exploiting the rootkit built into Sony-BMG albums that utilize First4Internet’s XCP DRM (as I warned they would last week), Sony has at last agreed to temporarily stop shipping CDs containing the defective software:

We stand by content protection technology as an important tool to protect our intellectual property rights and those of our artists. Nonetheless, as a precautionary measure, SONY BMG is temporarily suspending the manufacture of CDs containing XCP technology. We also intend to re-examine all aspects of our content protection initiative to be sure that it continues to meet our goals of security and ease of consumer use.

What few people realize is that Sony uses another copy protection program, SunnComm‘s MediaMax, on other discs in their catalog, and that this system presumably is not included in the moratorium. Though MediaMax doesn’t resort to concealing itself with a rootkit, it does behave in several ways that are characteristic of spyware.

I originally wrote about MediaMax back in 2003. It was the first copy restricting technology that installed software in an attempt to block ripping and copying. SunnComm has continued to develop its anti-copying tools, and today MediaMax is distributed on albums from Sony-BMG and several smaller labels. Sony titles that use MediaMax include Grown and Sexy by Babyface and Z by My Morning Jacket. These discs aren’t hard to spot; the back album covers usually contain a label that includes a URL.

Like XCP, recent versions of MediaMax engage in spyware-style behavior. They install software without meaningful consent or notification, they include either no means of uninstalling the software or an uninstaller that claims to remove the entire program but doesn’t, and they transmit information about user activities to SunnComm despite statements to the contrary in the end user license agreement and on SunnComm’s web site. I’ll describe each of these problems in detail below.

1. MediaMax installs without meaningful consent or notification

When a MediaMax-protected CD is inserted into a computer running Windows, the Windows Autorun feature launches a program from the CD called PlayDisc.exe. Like most installers, this program displays a license agreement, which you may accept or decline. But before the agreement appears, MediaMax installs around a dozen files that consume more than 12 MB on the hard disk. Most are copied to the folder c:Program FilesCommon FilesSunnComm Shared, shown below:

These files remain installed even if you decline the agreement. One of them, a kernel-level driver with the cryptic name “sbcphid”, is both installed and launched. This component is the heart of the copy protection system. When it is running, it attempts to block CD ripping and copying applications from reading the audio tracks on SunnComm-protected discs. MediaMax refrains from making one final change until after you accept the license—it doesn’t set the driver to automatically run again every time Windows starts. Nevertheless, the code keeps running until the computer is restarted and remains on the hard disk indefinitely, even if the agreement is declined. [Update 11/28: In several common scenarios, MediaMax goes a step further and sets the driver to automatically run again every time Windows starts, even if the user has never agreed to the license.]

To see if SunnComm’s driver is present on a Windows XP system, open the start menu and select Run. In the box that pops up, type

cmd /k sc query sbcphid

and click OK. If the response includes “STATE: 1 STOPPED”, the driver is installed; if it includes “STATE: 4 RUNNING”, the driver is installed and actively restricting access to music. Alternately, you can look for the driver’s file, sbcphid.sys, which will be located in the c:windowssystem32drivers folder if it is installed.

(Newer version of SunnComm’s software can also block copying on Mac systems, as reported by MacInTouch. However, since Mac OS X does not automatically run software from CDs, Mac users will only be affected if they manually launch the installer.)

Is there any meaningful notice before the program is installed? On the contrary, the Sony license agreement (which happens to be identical to the agreement on XCP discs, despite significant differences between XCP and MediaMax) states that the software will not be installed until after you accept the terms:

As soon as you have agreed to be bound by the terms and conditions of the EULA, this CD will automatically install a small proprietary software program (the “SOFTWARE”) onto YOUR COMPUTER. The SOFTWARE is intended to protect the audio files embodied on the CD, and it may also facilitate your use of the DIGITAL CONTENT. Once installed, the SOFTWARE will reside on YOUR COMPUTER until removed or deleted.

Notice too that while the agreement partially describes the protection software, it fails to disclose important details about what the software does. Yes, the MediaMax driver tries to “protect the audio files embodied on the CD,” but it also attempts to restrict access to any other CD that use SunnComm’s technology. You only need to agree to installation on one album for the software to affect your ability to use many other titles.

2. MediaMax discs include either no uninstaller or an uninstaller that fails to remove major components of the software

None of the MediaMax albums I’ve seen from Sony-BMG include any option to uninstall the software. However, some titles from other labels do include an uninstall program. For instance, the album You Just Gotta Love Christmas by Peter Cetera (Viastar Records) adds MediaMax to the Windows Add/Remove Programs control panel, the standard interface for removing programs. If you elect to remove the software, it displays the following prompt:

Clicking “Yes” does cause parts of MediaMax to be deleted, including nearly all the files in the SunnComm shared folder. However, the protection driver remains installed and active despite the suggestion that “MediaMax and all of its components” would be removed. That means iTunes and other programs still cannot access music for any SunnComm-protected CD.

[Update: Apparently SunnComm was providing an uninstaller to users who persistently demanded one, but the uninstaller opened a severe security hole in users’ systems.]

3. MediaMax transmits information about you to SunnComm without notification or consent

Sony and SunnComm seem to go out of their way to suggest that MediaMax doesn’t collect information about you. From the EULA:

[T]he SOFTWARE will not be used at any time to collect any personal information from you, whether stored on YOUR COMPUTER or otherwise.

SunnComm’s customer care web page is equally explicit:

Is any personal information collected from my computer while using this CD?:
No information is ever collected about you or your computer without you consenting.

Yet like XCP, the MediaMax software “phones home” to SunnComm every time you play a protected CD. Using standard network monitoring tools, you can observe MediaMax connecting to the web server and sending the following request headers:

POST /perfectplacement/retrieveassets.asp?id=
   7F63A4FD-9FBD-486B-B473-D18CC92D05C0 HTTP/1.1
Accept: */*
Accept-Language: en-us
Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate
User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1)
Content-Length: 39
Connection: Keep-Alive
Cache-Control: no-cache

This shows that MediaMax opens a web page from a SunnComm server and sends a 32-character identifier (highlighted)—apparently a unique code that tells SunnComm what album you’re listening to. The request also contains standard HTTP headers from which the company can learn what operating system you are running (in the above example, NT 5.1, a.k.a. Windows XP) and what version of Internet Explorer you use (here, IE 6).

SunnComm also gets to observe your computer’s IP address, which is transmitted to every Internet server you connect to. You are assigned an IP address by your Internet service provider or system administrator. Many users are issued frequently changing “dynamic” IP addresses that make it difficult to track them individually, but others have fixed, “static” addresses. If you have a fixed address, SunnComm can piece together the messages from your computer to find out all the protected discs you listen to and how often you play them. In some cases, such as if you are a Princeton student, knowing the address is enough to let SunnComm track down your name, address, and phone number.

So why does MediaMax contact a SunnComm server in the first place? The server’s response to the above request isn’t very informative:

Microsoft VBScript runtime

error ‘800a000d’

Type mismatch: ‘ubound’

/perfectplacement/retrieveassets.asp, line 26

Apparently a bug in the server software prevents it from returning any useful information. However, the name “Perfect Placement” in the URL provides a valuable clue about the server’s purpose. A SunnComm web page describes “Perfect Placement” as a MediaMax feature that allows record labels to “[g]enerate revenue or added value through the placement of 3rd party dynamic, interactive ads that can be changed at any time by the content owner.” Presumably the broken site is supposed to return a list of ads to display based on the disc ID.

Just because the server software is buggy doesn’t mean it isn’t collecting data. If SunnComm’s web site is configured like most web servers, it logs the information described above for every request. We can’t know for certain what, if anything, SunnComm does with the data, but that’s why transmitting it at all raises privacy concerns.

To summarize, MediaMax software:

  • Is installed onto the computer without meaningful notification or consent, and remains installed even if the license agreement is declined;
  • Includes either no uninstall mechanism or an uninstaller that fails to completely remove the program like it claims;
  • Sends information to SunnComm about the user’s activities contrary to SunnComm and Sony statements and without any option to disable the transmissions.

Does MediaMax also create security problems as serious as the Sony rootkit’s? Finding out for sure may be difficult, since the license agreement specifically prohibits disassembling the software. However, it certainly causes unnecessary risk. Playing a regular audio CD doesn’t require you to install any new software, so it involves minimal danger. Playing First4Internet or SunnComm discs means not only installing new software but trusting that software with full control of your computer. After last week’s revelations about the Sony rootkit, such trust does not seem well deserved.

Viewed together, the MediaMax and XCP copy protection schemes reveal a pattern of irresponsible behavior on the parts of Sony and its pals, SunnComm and First4Internet. Hopefully Sony’s promised re-examination of its copy protection initiatives will involve a hard look at both technologies.

SonyBMG DRM Customer Survival Kit

Here’s a handy bag of tricks for people whose computers are (or might be) infected by the SonyBMG/First4Internet rootkit DRM. The instructions here draw heavily from research by Alex Halderman and Mark Russinovich.

This DRM system operates only on recent versions of Windows. If you’re using MacOS or Linux, you have nothing to worry about from this particular DRM system. The instructions here apply to Windows XP.

How to tell whether the rootkit is on your computer: On the Start menu, choose Run. In the box that pops up, type this command:

cmd /k sc query $sys$aries

and hit the Enter key. If the response includes “STATE: 4 RUNNING”, then your machine is infected with the rootkit. If the response includes “The specified service does not exist as an installed service”, then your machine is not infected with the rootkit.

How to disable the rootkit: On the Start menu, choose Run. In the box that pops up, type this command:

cmd /k sc delete $sys$aries

and hit the Enter key. Then reboot your system, and the rootkit will be permanently disabled.

Note that this does not remove or disable the main anti-copying technologies. It only turns off the rootkit functionality that hides files, programs, and directory entries. The main DRM software is still present.

How to remove the DRM software entirely: Use the official uninstaller offered by the vendors. They’ll make you jump through unnecessary hoops, and give them unnecessary information, before you can uninstall. Feel free to complain to the vendors about their refusal to offer a simple uninstaller for download.

It is possible to remove the DRM software by hand, but I recommend against it – if you mess up, you can render your machine unbootable.

Probably someone will create an unofficial but easy-to-use uninstaller, but I haven’t seen one yet.

How to get songs from these discs into iTunes, an iPod, or anywhere else you can legally put them: SonyBMG will send instructions on how to do this to anyone who asks. Note that their instructions direct you to agree to their End User License Agreement; be sure to read the agreement and think about whether you want to accept it.

To save you time, I’ll quote their instructions here:

Place the CD into your computer and allow the supplied Sony BMG audio player on the CD to start. If our player software does not automatically start, open your Windows Explorer. Locate and select the drive letter for your CD drive. On the disc you will find either a file named LaunchCD.exe or Autorun.exe. Double-click this file to manually start the player.

Once the Sony BMG player application has been launched and the End User License Agreement has been accepted, click the “Copy Songs” icon/button and follow the instructions to copy the secured Windows Media Files (WMA) to your PC’s hard drive.

TIP: Once the WMA files are on your hard drive, be sure to remove the original CD from your optical drive before proceeding. The original CD is designed to only allow playback using the Sony BMG audio player software included on the disc.

Once the WMA files are on your PC, open and listen to the songs with Windows Media Player 9.0 or higher (version 10 is recommended for XP) to verify that they imported correctly. Then use Windows Media Player to burn the songs as a standard Audio CD.

TIP: By default Windows Media Player may assume that you want to create a data CD rather than an audio CD. This just creates a data CD of the audio files in their secured WMA format rather than first converting them to standard Red Book Audio format. Before creating the CD be sure to verify “Audio CD” is selected.

Having followed these instructions, you will then have a copy of the CD that is unencumbered by copy protection. You can then proceed to make any lawful use of the music, including ripping it into iTunes and downloading it onto your iPod.

You read that correctly – SonyBMG, which is willing to surreptitiously install a rootkit on your computer in the name of retarding copying of their music, will send, to anyone who asks, detailed instructions for making an unprotected copy of that same music.