Has HD's DRM Been Hacked?

HD DVDs and Blu-Ray discs came to market with a digital rights management (DRM) content encryption system called Advanced Access Content System (AACS). Supposedly, AACS was intended to permit greater flexibility than conventional DVD's Content Scrambling System (CSS) DRM, since it was touted as allowing purchasers, say, to load DVDs onto their media servers or burn downloaded HD purchases to disc.

In reality, however, some consumers found that their expensive HD monitors wouldn't sync to the players because AACS didn't recognize them as legitimate. Needless to say, this did not endear AACS to consumers (or potential consumers).

On December 27, a hacker calling himself Muslix64 posted "The Saga of decrypting an AACS protected movie, by Muslix64" on the website Doom9 (it's the ninth post on the page). Muslix64's "Saga" recounted the story of his frustration at having purchased a new HD DVD player to watch through his computer system, only to discover that it wouldn't play, since his monitor was connected via DVI cable. "This is not what we can call 'fair use'!" So Muslix64 began to hack, creating a program called BackupHDDVD.

Muslix64 warns that the code is still buggy and requires separate content and title codes to unzip complete discs, but he says it works and "any good java programmer can confirm this program makes sense." He promises to post source code on January 2.

Many news sources have greeted Muslix64's announcement as fact, but not everyone agrees. A reader of the popular Boing-Boing website opined: "Note that AACS has not been broken. All they did was copy the key from memory off WinDVD's software. Yes, this will let you copy HD DVD for now, until the manufacturers revoke the key in the next batch of HD DVD pressings. WinDVD will either have to get a new key or might get their licence canceled entirely, ending the product.

"Of course if they get a new key, then it can be copied from memory again unless they start encrypting it in memory and then this program is useless.

"So 'backup' your HD DVD's while you can, in a few months this program will be useless on newer releases."

What is certain is that the code will be broken, if it hasn't already been. Over at the UK tech websiteThe Inquirer, Charlie Demerjian has declared "HD Format Wars Are Over."

Demerjian declaims: "The next generation disc format has been settled once and for all. Thanks to the due diligence, hard work, and unprecedented cooperation between the media companies, the hardware vendors and the OS vendor, we finally have a solution. It is quite easy, Piracy, the better choice(tm)."

He continues to lambast the stupidity of the technologies employed by the hardware and content delivery industries in a hilarious—and frequently painfully spot-on—phillipic that concludes with a darkly comic year-end assessment: "What do we end up with? A year or more where the CE industry pushed, pulled, legislated and litigated their way to obscurity. Along the way, they killed yet another promising consumer technology, well five or six actually, and made Intel and AMD their bitches. We all were on the verge of losing this format and DRM-infection war until a dark horse champion emerged to snatch victory from the jaws of evil. Piracy, the better choice(tm)."

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