Breaking Digital Rights Management

From walking a fine line to drawing new boundaries

For every protective action, there is a hacker reaction. The reverse can just as easily be the case. Forget your Dungeons and Dragons with its eternal battles between good and evil; the real endless war is being fought between techies from the underground (literally, most are in their parents' basements) and the major software corporations that employ thousands of employees and openly recruit the brightest Ivy League minds to root out the former.

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However, don't think that the controversy around DRM is limited to the geeks and gurus. No, it's something that stretches a little further everyday into the mainstream. Clearly, anyone who is a music lover and familiar with a computer will become quite familiar with DRM in the next few years.

The eternal struggle between corporate music and hackers – but who’s the little guy?
It used to be so simple. You bought a record, cassette, or CD and that was the limit. You could lend it out, sure. But, only one person could access that media form at any one time. If Bobby down the road wanted to borrow your 4 Non Blondes tape, you'd have to make due with 2 Unlimited until he returned it. Now, whether it was the fact that Bobby, like many others, couldn't be trusted with that cassette or the fact that many people simply became frustrated with one-hit wonders (ahem, 4 Non Blondes), is unclear. Both probably apply. Regardless, DRM has gotten much more complicated and the ownership of music has grown far beyond the physical nature of a compact disc.

Clearly, there are those that believe no one rightfully owns music. Some lobby groups, including the Free Software Foundation (FSF) or Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), are of the mindset that the millions of sound files online are free content, and restrictions on their distribution equal restrictions on certain, fundamental rights.

We dedicate this section to these groups and that mindset.

The Apple Crack

One of the more noteworthy individual crack artists on the web is DVD Jon, who is (relatively) famous for cracking DVDs for Linux boxes. Recently, he introduced his own money-making venture that reverses the effect of DRM for Apple's FairPlay technology. Cleverly called QTFairUse, it allows users to play their software on Apple products, no matter their format. DVD Jon doesn't consider the action illegal, since he's "adding" DRM rather than removing it. It's one of those ventures that walks a fine line between illegitimate and legitimate activiity, but opens doors for individuals and corporations alike who must deal with the fine print when it comes to digital media compatibility issues.

How did he do it?

DVD Jon, in all likelihood, separated the copyright protection from the unprotected song data. That means he, according to some sources, patched Apple's QuickTime with a software component he devised himself. Obviously, this is quite vague, but it will almost undoubtedly force Apple into unscheduled updates so that more malicious hackers can't completely avoid the restrictions of DRM.

So far, DVD Jon has only the media to answer to
Will Apple be ticked?

This is a tough question to answer. Although the measure doesn't really hurt Apple or offer anyone free wares, it does skirt the money-making-machine that is iTunes. Apple head Steve Jobs will surely be making a difficult decision on whether or not to send the lawyers after DVD Jon, but for now it makes Apple even more useful to the consumer. The one hitch might by Jon's desire to profit from his little DRM crack.

The Microsoft PlayForSure Crack

The most popular way to avoid Microsoft's little blue PlayForSure logo is FairUse4WM, a crack that obliterates the DRM behind Windows Media. It's based on removing the protective attachments for legal download sites, including Napster and Yahoo Music Unlimited. Like Apple's FairPlay technology, each of these sites has measures that limit the number of times you can copy or reproduce the files you download. FairUse4WM has something to say about that.

FairUse4WM technology removes those nasty little limitations that only allow these Windows Media coded products to run on Microsoft players. This means that all of a sudden you can play music files originally downloaded to Windows on your Mac. This is in addition to the fact that you can pretty much do what you will with the files after FairUse4WM strips the DRM. The only thing you'll need is the original file – and this is intended for purchased content from sites like Napster and Yahoo – and Windows Media Player 9, 10, or 11 (beta).

Will Microsoft be ticked?

Microsoft will undoubtedly be angry. It shows on the web, as some of the most popular sources for downloading FairUse4WM have been shut down. Still, we're pretty sure the resourceful web navigator can find it.

The Microsoft Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) Crack

The more measures Microsoft implements to protect its software, the more hackers there are to crack it. Although PlayForSure can be a restrictive measure and an annoying one at that, it pales in comparison to some of the outrage that has accompanied the Redmond-based company's Windows Genuine Advantage. The security measure, introduced over the summer of 2006, imbeds itself within the registry of users and reportedly phones back to Microsoft HQ on the actions – legal or illegal – of those possessing the undercover software. In the future it could completely shut down pirated versions of Windows, whether the owner is aware or not.

There are measures to remove parts or even the entirety of WGA, and many of these methods can be found online. For now, WGA doesn't do much other than monitor your system, but in the future it could pose real problems for a lot of users.

Removing WGA notifications

As mentioned, at this time WGA really only notifies the user that they are running illegitimate Microsoft products. For those who simply hate the incessant messages and care not for the brooding problem within, the notifications can be removed. Perhaps the easiest method of doing this simple fix is to perform a system restore to a point before you downloaded the WGA program. Sometimes this can be difficult to determine, since many of the ways of contracting WGA are hidden. This is precisely the controversial point of Microsoft's security measure. Try to remember a point where you performed a "critical update" to Windows. That's probably when you installed WGA.

The official method of removing the message, as suggested by Microsoft, uses the following steps:

  1. Open Windows Task Manager
  2. End wgatray.exe process in Task Manager
  3. Restart Windows XP in Safe Mode
  4. Delete WgaTray.exe from c:\Windows\System32
  5. Delete WgaTray.exe from c:\Windows\System32\dllcache
  6. Open RegEdit
  7. Browse the following location:HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\Notify
  8. Delete folder 'WgaLogon' and all contents
  9. Reboot Windows XP

Why would Microsoft lend a helping hand to hackers, you ask? Well, in this case only the notifications are being removed. Besides, considering the controversy (and lawsuits) accompanying WGA, an official removal of the notifications is the very least the company can provide.

Removing all of WGA

The most prevalent methods of removing WGA and avoiding this little devil of a software DRM involves .dll files. Those interested should look into LegitCheckControl.dll, which convinces the WGA validation that your copy of Windows is legitimate. To implement these patches by replacing the files on your own, try to end the respective processes in Task Manager before deleting the files. In most cases, you will need to restart your PC in Safe Mode in order to replace the original copy of LegitCheckControl.dll and likewise files. However, there have been automatic updates and even a cracked WGA installer that automatically apply the patched version of WGA files.

As you can tell, removing WGA is a tough process. This is because Microsoft, the most formidable software company in the world, designed it. WGA is there to make sure hackers don't succeed, and obviously Microsoft is seeking to fight fire with fire by stealthily installing its "phone home" software on user computers without them knowing.