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.