The central authority that runs AACS (the anticopying/DRM system used on commercial HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs) announced [April 6, 2007 item] last week the reissue of some software players that can play the discs, “[i]n response to attacks against certain PC-based applications”. The affected applications include WinDVD and probably others.
Recall that analysts had previously extracted from software players a set of decryption keys sufficient to decrypt any disc sold thus far. The authority could have responded to these attacks by blacklisting the affected applications or their decryption keys, which would have limited the effect of the past attacks but would have rendered the affected applications unable to play discs, even for law-abiding customers – that’s too much collateral damage.
To reduce the harm to law-abiding customers, the authority apparently required the affected programs to issue free online updates, where the updates contain new software along with new decryptions keys. This way, customers who download the update will be able to keep playing discs, even though the the software’s old keys won’t work any more.
The attackers’ response is obvious: they’ll try to analyze the new software and extract the new keys. If the software updates changed only the decryption keys, the attackers could just repeat their previous analysis exactly, to get the new keys. To prevent this, the updates will have to restructure the software significantly, in the hope that the attackers will have to start their analysis from scratch.
The need to restructure the software explains why several months expired between the attacks and this response. New keys can be issued quickly, but restructuring software takes time. The studios reportedly postponed some planned disc releases to wait for the software reissue.
It seems inevitable that the attackers will succeed, within a month or so, in extracting keys from the new software. Even if the guts of the new software are totally unlike the old, this time the attackers will be better organized and will know more about how AACS works and how implementations tend to store and manage keys. In short, the attackers’ advantage will be greater than it was last time.
When the attackers manage to extract the new keys, a new round of the game will start. The player software will have to be restructured again so that a new version with new keys can replace the old. Then it will be the attackers’ turn, and the game will continue.
It’s a game that inherently favors the attackers. In my experience, software analysts always beat the obfuscators, if the analysts are willing to work hard, as they are here. Every round of the game, the software authors will have to come up with new and unexpected tricks for restructuring their software – tricks that will have to resist the attackers’ ever-growing suite of analysis tools. And each time the attackers succeed, they’ll be able to decrypt all existing discs.
We can model the economic effect of this game. The key parameter is the attackers’ reaction time, that is, how long it takes the attackers to extract keys from each newly issued version of the player software. If this time is short – say, a few weeks – then the AACS authority won’t benefit much from playing this game, and the authority would be nearly as well off if it simply gave up and let the extracted keys remain valid and the exploited software stay in the field.
My guess is that the attackers will extract keys from the new software within about three weeks of its availability.