Monday, November 07, 2005

That's Entertainment!

An advisory received yesterday from Jerry Pournelle whose knowledge of computers is exceeded by, well, nobody I know:

You may or may not be familiar with the Sony Music CD Root Kit problem.

Let me begin with the warning: do not buy or install any Sony Music CD on
your PC. The records play just fine on other systems. There's no problem
with Mac or Linux or with self contained music players.

But if you try to play that record on your CD, it will tell you that you
must install the Sony CD player codec (you can't play the record through
Microsoft Media Player or any other stuff you have installed on your

DO NOT INSTALL THAT SOFTWARE. If you do you may never be able to get it off
there short of scrubbing your system down to bare iron, reformatting, and
reinstalling everything. I wish I were spoofing you, but I am not. This is a
serious warning.

Moreover, if you have given a Sony Music CD to anyone as a gift, and they
have tried to play that music on their PC (not Mac, not a standalone player,
not Linux, but Windows PC) then their systems are infected, and it is
exceedingly difficult -- exceedingly difficult -- to remove that infection
in a way that doesn't blue screen of death the PC.


I have heard nothing about Sony movie DVD's having any such infection, but
it's possible. So far all my Sony DVD's have played with Power DVD and I
have not been asked or required to install any special Sony software to play
a Sony movie DVD; if I am asked to do so I will refuse, and so should you.

Understand that the Root Kit on the Sony Music CD is a deliberate
installation by Sony as part of a Digital Rights Management scheme. They
will now, if you jump through enough hoops, send you a patch that will make
their scheme visible -- like all root kits, their original installation so
infects your operating system as to hide in a directory your operating
system literally cannot see or access -- but it still does not remove it.

I'll have more on removal in the column and at another time this being
column time. I will also have a


warning in my Christmas Shopping List in the column.

This is a serious infection: the scheme has actually been used by third
parties to hide other malware on systems that have the Sony root kit
installed, and others have used the Sony root kit to hide cheat software for
World of Warcraft. Even if you think you know what you are doing, you should
not fool around with this stuff. It's dangerous, it's very difficult to
remove, and there is a very real risk that you will have to reformat your
disk and reinstall your OS and everything else.

For more information see:

The last reference is to the Sysinternals page where an incredulous Mark
Russinovich relates how he found the root kit on his system: the root kit
has been out for months, and this is the first indication of it's existence.
Sony did a splendid job of stealthing this.

I will have more in the column and on the web page. If you have bought and
installed a Sony Music CD on your PC, *you need more help than I can give
you*. Start with the Sysinternals page, and *proceed with extreme caution*.

And the best of British Luck to you.