ECTS: Copying CDs just got harder

Making a copy of your favourite game using a CD writer is about to get tricky thanks to new encryption technologies on view at this week's ECTS.

Californian firm, Macrovision, Friday announced its SafeDisc anti-piracy solution for CD-ROMs that, says UK managing director David Simmons, "has yet to be broken."

SafeDisc is a software solution that requires no changes to either PC or CD-ROM hardware and works by placing a digital signature onto the master CD that cannot be copied by CD recorders or mastering equipment. The signature, explains Simmons, is "embedded by the laser beam recorder at the time of mastering." This is backed up with encryption.

"Once you put in the CD, if it is a copy, the PC can't read the digital signature," says Simmons, "so you can't play the game."

According to David Horton, vice president of Prosoft Labs - a service provider in the US - SafeDisc is "probably the most stable software we've ever tested" and withstood Prosoft's "rigorous attempts" to crack it. However Simmons concedes that all software algorithms "eventually attract attention [from hackers]. It's our job to stay ahead."

Sony DADC is also showing off its anti-piracy technology. Securom uses an electronic fingerprint to separate original CD-ROMs from pirated disks and, like SafeDisc, stops the CD being read if it has been copied. Sony representatives were not available for comment.

"This is a serious issue," says Simmons. "And it's not just the games world that is being threatened by piracy." Hollywood is bracing itself for the battle to prevent DVD films being copied onto ordinary video tape. "Think of it like this," says Simmons. "Once DVD takes off, there will effectively be a digital master available for anyone to copy."

According to the US-based Interactive Digital Software Association, over $3.2 billion (£1.95 billion) was lost to software pirates in 1997.