Controlling the kernel - It's all about DRM

Controlling the kernel - It's all about DRM

Summary: There's been much written about Microsoft's Vista Kernel Mode Security, especially the Kernel Patch Protection scheme for Windows Vista 64-bit, more commonly known as PatchGuard to the rest of us. Microsoft is selling these security enhancements as the best thing since sliced bread, telling us how much safer our 64-bit PCs will be. The security companies, on the other hand, are up in arms and claiming that Microsoft is locking them out of the kernel so that the Redmond giant can gain greater momentum in the security arena. I'm here to tell you that it has very little, if anything, to do with security - it's all to do with DRM and locking down your hardware.

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TOPICS: Windows
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There's been much written about Microsoft's Vista Kernel Mode Security, especially the Kernel Patch Protection scheme for Windows Vista 64-bit, more commonly known as PatchGuard to the rest of us.  Microsoft is selling these security enhancements as the best thing since sliced bread, telling us how much safer our 64-bit PCs will be.  Controlling the kernel has little to do with protecting you from hackers and malware - it's about protecting Microsoft's new business modelThe security companies, on the other hand, are up in arms and claiming that Microsoft is locking them out of the kernel so that the Redmond giant can gain greater momentum in the security arena.  I'm here to tell you that it has very little, if anything, to do with security - it's all to do with DRM and locking down your hardware. 

Controlling the kernel has little to do with protecting you from hackers and malware - it's about protecting Microsoft's new business model.

See, the reality is that Microsoft is changing; software is only part of their business model.  Microsoft aspires to be a big player in the media industry (here it is, as ever, following Apple's lead).  It doesn't want to create content, but instead have resale and distribution rights.  But there's a serious problem with this business model.  Windows is far too easy to tweak so that it does your bidding.  Hook into Windows at a low enough level with a few lines of code and that CD, DVD, or streamed video download can be captured and repackaged in any format you want.  For the user who wants to capture a DVD to disc so that it can be replayed on a laptop, this kind of freedom is great.  For a media company trying to grow the bottom line, it seems like financial suicide to allow your content to be run on such an insecure platform.

Enter Windows Vista 64-bit, complete with a ring-fenced kernel.

In order to create a protected path between software DRM components and the system hardware, Microsoft has to make sure that third-party code can't be allowed to insert itself within the media path, because this could intercept protected content and allow leakage.  Make no mistake,  Microsoft is positioning Windows Vista as a safe platform for the delivery of protected media content, not as a platform to protect you.

The system that Microsoft is using to protect the kernel is two-tiered:

  • First, you have in-built defenses, such as PatchGuard, which actively defend the Windows kernel from alteration.
  • Then, you have Windows Update.  Is someone does manage to bypass the defense mechanisms in place, Microsoft will use the Windows Update mechanism to block up the hole.

Because software isn't clever enough to differentiate between an antivirus scanner which is trying to defend your system against malware and, say, some hack program designed to intercept a streamed movie, Microsoft has to block everyone from tampering with the kernel.

I've spoken to a number of security company representatives and they all tell me that unfettered access to the 64-bit kernel is vital if they are to offer the same level of security as they currently do for 32-bit versions of Windows.  That alone is pretty serious and enough for me to give Vista 64-bit a wide berth.  Not that I think Microsoft is going to make much headway pushing 64-bit versions for Vista - at least for a few years.  The downsides far outweigh the benefits.

But when we are ready to move to a 64-bit platform, we're going to experience the most locked down, rigidly controlled version of Windows, ever.

Topic: Windows

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  • Message has been deleted.

    sigmaman1
  • You're just figuring this out now?

    Anyone paying attention could have told you this years ago, back in the Palladium days.

    One always has to remember--you, the user, are not Microsoft's customer. Microsoft's customers are the OEMs and the companies they license their technology to (in this case, the media companies and the technology is MS' DRM). That's where their loyalty is always going to lie and that's where the thrust of their R&D goes. That's who pays MS the big bucks, so it only makes sense from a business standpoint.

    Oh sorry, you can't do what you want to do on your Windows computer? Too bad. What are you going to do, switch to another OS? Yeah, right. As if.
    tic swayback
    • Seriously

      "Oh sorry, you can't do what you want to do on your Windows computer? Too bad. What are you going to do, switch to another OS? Yeah, right. As if."

      I am planning on reducing my depandance on Windows ... seriously.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • If you do...

        ....you will be part of a tiny minority. The juggernaut will sail on without you, no big loss.
        tic swayback
        • Probably ...

          ... but it's an important safety net.
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
          • Important but unlikely

            It is important, and freeing yourself from control like this is a wonderful thing. I'm a recent convert to eMusic and am very happy with the service, just as one example.

            The problem is that even though it's important, for most people, it's unlikely and unthinkable. There are so many lock-ins out there, so much FUD, and so much odd partisanship (my OS can beat up your OS) that the vast majority will remain in their chains.
            tic swayback
          • I think that the place to start ...

            ... is with non-critical PCs - backup systems, data stores. That kind of thing.

            But you're right - people won't change. Mostly because they fear change.
            Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
          • Why people won't change

            Although people fear change, the main reason they won't change is virtually all computers come with Windows already installed. IF OTOH vendors would provide them with one of the various versions of LINUX and Open Office the end user would hardly notice the difference. They look much alike and they operate much alike as far as the end user is concerned. BUT try and find a major vendor who sells their product with LINUX installed. They should include LINUX as a dual boot alternative. That would bring a new, capable OS to the attention of the unknowing masses. You don?t suppose there?s anything in their agreements with MS preventing that do you? Those masses will become caring when they discover what DRM has wrought upon them, but still being unknowing they will have no alternative.

            One of my machines is now dual boot and the other three will soon follow.
            Will it make a difference? Not to MS, but it will to me.
            rdhalsteatzd
          • When the revolution comes...

            ... it will not be in the domestic market. It will be in the business market. If it becomes more cost effective to switch to Linux or Mac then businesses will do it. They won't give a d*mn what their staff think of having to use Linux. The bottom line is what counts.

            That means that people will come across the alternative to Windows at work and that in turn will reduce some of the "fear factor".

            Nothing lasts forever, not even Windows. Why else is Microsoft trying to turn Vista into a DRM platform rather than a computing platform?

            In one respect at least, they've missed the ball. For businesses, DRM is a non-issue whereas the possibility of the WGA kill switch is a major issue. It almost seems like they have decided that the home market is where the future money will come from, yet business has always had the deeper pockets.

            I find it all very strange.

            Note to Adrian - having tried various Linux flavours I recommend SUSE 10. Ubuntu has some very rough edges.
            bportlock
          • Actually...

            The more locked down a system is, the better it is for (most) businesses. They have a big problem with users putting on random software. Businesses especially are less likely to care whether DRM'ed stuff is getting ripped - in fact, they don't want it to happen due to liability concerns.

            So, the more locked down a system is, the more attractive it actually would be for business deployment. For most operations, the business wants to limit what the users can do or run on their systems.
            hickum
        • Minorities turn into majorities..

          Thats just the same type of thinking IBM employed in the 60's and 70, through some of the 80's....

          can't happen in Redmond is a big mistake...Linux is gaining, distros are becoming "for dummies",

          Mac now runs x86 code.....

          It appears to be shaping up that Vista is part of a straw/camel scenario....the software, is more proprietary than WIN32, its more of a pig for hardware....its the biggest pile of crap that M$ has done in the last 10 years...

          they once contended they are not a hardware company, XBox, Zune, proprietary software for specific platforms....double speak

          go talk to the hundred's of thousands of people that used to work at IBM, or better yet go read what the current CEO who rescued Big Blue from the pit of closed system thinking...ask him what he thinks...
          rkostynu@...
      • Start Here

        Pain Free, I had a colleague wife dry run it.

        http://mostly-linux.blogspot.com/2006/10/part-1-of-4-linux-for-supernewbie.html

        She didn't know quite what the heck it was, but she liked the background. :-D

        TripleII
        TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
      • Starting small

        [i]I am planning on reducing my depandance on Windows ... seriously.[/i]

        A good place to start is with the things that MSWindows sucks spectacularly at [1]. Rescue disks, for instance.

        Your plan to do backup, local servers, etc. is a good next step. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at some of the things that are painful with MS and easy on other platforms.

        [1] Be nice. I realize that some would say that's "everything," but there is suckage and then there's leaves-hickeys-on-armor-plate [b]suckage[/b].
        anonymous
      • RE: Seriously

        Actually, I am ahead of you on this one. I have already replaced
        one of my two Windows Pro partitions with Ubuntu Linux and on
        the 31st of December my remaining one will be replaced. Then
        on the 1st of January I will be making a New Years resolution to
        be Windows free for the year. If that works out I will be staying
        that way. I already sent MS a message about the first removal,
        (not that I think they really care, but if enough people were to
        email them when they drop Windows they might begin to care)...

        Right now I am doing 99.999% of my work in OS X, Ubuntu, and
        a little in PCBSD. And guess what? I have found I really do not
        need Windows anymore. It is a great feeling.
        Protagonistic
    • RE: You're just figuring this out now?

      >>...Oh sorry, you can't do what you want to do
      on your Windows computer? Too bad. What are you
      going to do, switch to another OS? Yeah, right.
      As if...<<

      Actually, began migrating, a little at a time,
      back in 1999. And we have found that anything,
      and I mean anything that can be produced in
      WinXXX can be produced in Linux.
      joe6pack_z
  • And you have your Virtualization Answer too

    MS is desperate to control you, the user, with no freedom to use your computer as you please. Want to record audio in, forget it, want to stream content to your HD to listen to later, sorry buddy, go pay the low $4.99 to some DRMed content provider. Wait, if I run Vista in Linux with VMWare, and Vista can play a sound through the sound card, I can then do whatever the heck i want.

    It is $,$,$, all of it is so that the user gets used to paying for everything from 25c per screenshot to 50c per podcast. It's coming, for a Vista person, after purchase, it will eventually be impossible to use your computer without paying more money to someone.

    TripleII
    TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
    • You've Got Their Number

      And it aint 000 too short.
      Funny how everyone who falls for a scam wakes up just in time to see.......uh-oh...too late!
      I shoulda listened to them nuts.
      Ole Man
  • I'm too busy to read this article

    No time, I'm too busy earning my merit badge:

    http://www.boingboing.net/2006/10/20/boy_scouts_shill_for.html
    tic swayback
    • Yeah ...

      ... chilling.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Great Link! Thanks!

      The buzzards need to be exposed before their stink consumes society.
      Ole Man