Microsoft's Copy Protection Cracked

Microsoft's confident foray into the world of online entertainment didn't last long. On October 19, the Redmond, WA technology giant admitted that an unknown hacker had successfully circumvented the company's vaunted anti-piracy software.

Earlier this month, a programmer calling himself "Beale Screamer" began circulating software on the Internet that removes copy-inhibit code from music files. Microsoft digital media executives scrambled to contain the damage, spending much of the day on the 19th conferring with their counterparts in the music industry, reassuring them that Microsoft's digital rights management (DRM) software is secure and reliable, according to reports appearing over the weekend of October 20.

The company's DRM is upgradeable and was designed to anticipate such challenges, said group product manager Jonathan Usher. "We anticipated . . . hacks and designed renewability into the system," he stated. Microsoft will transmit "patches" to Windows Media users to fix the problem.

Windows Media software gives copyright holders the power to determine how their products can be used—once, for a limited time, or forever—and how they can be copied. The software's robustness and resistance to attack were strong selling points in getting the entertainment industry to accept it. Forgotten in the sales pitches were the widespread resentment against Microsoft and the delight hackers take in picking apart its products. The moral here: Anything made by people can be dismantled by other people, even—perhaps especially—if it's made by Microsoft. Further hacks of Windows Media are as inevitable as the sunrise.