Hackers bypass Microsoft copy protection

Chinese hackers are using a recently released cracking program to freely copy broadband encrypted content, shedding more doubts on Microsoft's plans for digital protection

Hackers in Hong Kong are routinely breaking Microsoft's digital media copyright protection system and helping themselves to broadband encrypted content, including games, films and music videos, according to a report in the South China Morning Post today.

The content is hosted on now.com.hk, which belongs to major Asian broadcaster Network of the World, and is protected by Microsoft's digital rights management software, DRM 2. The hackers are using FreeMe, a DRM 2 cracker developed by pseudonymous programmer "Beale Screamer" and recently distributed across the Web following exposure on US security site Cryptome.org.

FreeMe first appeared earlier this month, and this is believed to be the first time it has been put into wide use.

Broadband observer Jimmy Lam Tin-yim told the newspaper that the hackers were recording the encrypted streams onto disk and then breaking the protection. He estimated that fewer than 500 people were accessing content in this way, and pointed out that they had to be subscribers to the service in order to get access in the first place.

DRM 2 is an integral part of Windows Media Player and Windows XP, and is a lynchpin of Microsoft's approach to controlling the distribution of digital media. Although it includes a comprehensive analysis of the flaw in DRM2, FreeMe's distribution included an essay by the author cogently explaining that the software was an act of protest and not to be used for "massive copyright infringement".

He expects it to be used by people who have bought music or movies in order to view the content as and when they like: the distribution even includes a licence to that effect.

Noting that other programs that demonstrate flaws in protection schemes have led to their authors being arrested, Beale Screamer said, "I don't intend on being a martyr, or on spending the next decade of my life defending myself in legal proceedings."

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