Entries Tagged "spyware"

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Still More on Sony's DRM Rootkit

This story is just getting weirder and weirder (previous posts here and here).

Sony already said that they’re stopping production of CDs with the embedded rootkit. Now they’re saying that they will pull the infected disks from stores and offer free exchanges to people who inadvertently bought them.

Sony BMG Music Entertainment said Monday it will pull some of its most popular CDs from stores in response to backlash over copy-protection software on the discs.

Sony also said it will offer exchanges for consumers who purchased the discs, which contain hidden files that leave them vulnerable to computer viruses when played on a PC.

That’s good news, but there’s more bad news. The patch Sony is distributing to remove the rootkit opens a huge security hole:

The root of the problem is a serious design flaw in Sony’s web-based uninstaller. When you first fill out Sony’s form to request a copy of the uninstaller, the request form downloads and installs a program – an ActiveX control created by the DRM vendor, First4Internet – called CodeSupport. CodeSupport remains on your system after you leave Sony’s site, and it is marked as safe for scripting, so any web page can ask CodeSupport to do things. One thing CodeSupport can be told to do is download and install code from an Internet site. Unfortunately, CodeSupport doesn’t verify that the downloaded code actually came from Sony or First4Internet. This means any web page can make CodeSupport download and install code from any URL without asking the user’s permission.

Even more interesting is that there may be at least half a million infected computers:

Using statistical sampling methods and a secret feature of XCP that notifies Sony when its CDs are placed in a computer, [security researcher Dan] Kaminsky was able to trace evidence of infections in a sample that points to the probable existence of at least one compromised machine in roughly 568,200 networks worldwide. This does not reflect a tally of actual infections, however, and the real number could be much higher.

I say “may be at least” because the data doesn’t smell right to me. Look at the list of infected titles, and estimate what percentage of CD buyers will play them on their computers; does that seem like half a million sales to you? It doesn’t to me, although I readily admit that I don’t know the music business. Their methodology seems sound, though:

Kaminsky discovered that each of these requests leaves a trace that he could follow and track through the internet’s domain name system, or DNS. While this couldn’t directly give him the number of computers compromised by Sony, it provided him the number and location (both on the net and in the physical world) of networks that contained compromised computers. That is a number guaranteed to be smaller than the total of machines running XCP.

His research technique is called DNS cache snooping, a method of nondestructively examining patterns of DNS use. Luis Grangeia invented the technique, and Kaminsky became famous in the security community for refining it.

Kaminsky asked more than 3 million DNS servers across the net whether they knew the addresses associated with the Sony rootkit — connected.sonymusic.com, updates.xcp-aurora.com and license.suncom2.com. He uses a “non-recursive DNS query” that allows him to peek into a server’s cache and find out if anyone else has asked that particular machine for those addresses recently.

If the DNS server said yes, it had a cached copy of the address, which means that at least one of its client computers had used it to look up Sony’s digital-rights-management site. If the DNS server said no, then Kaminsky knew for sure that no Sony-compromised machines existed behind it.

The results have surprised Kaminsky himself: 568,200 DNS servers knew about the Sony addresses. With no other reason for people to visit them, that points to one or more computers behind those DNS servers that are Sony-compromised. That’s one in six DNS servers, across a statistical sampling of a third of the 9 million DNS servers Kaminsky estimates are on the net.

In any case, Sony’s rapid fall from grace is a great example of the power of blogs; it’s been fifteen days since Mark Russinovich first posted about the rootkit. In that time the news spread like a firestorm, first through the blogs, then to the tech media, and then into the mainstream media.

Posted on November 15, 2005 at 3:16 PMView Comments

More on Sony's DRM Rootkit

Here’s the story, edited to add lots of news.

There will be lawsuits. (Here’s the first.) Police are getting involved. There’s a Trojan that uses Sony’s rootkit to hide. And today Sony temporarily halted production of CDs protected with this technology.

Sony really overreached this time. I hope they get slapped down hard for it.

EDITED TO ADD (13 Nov): More information on uninstalling the rootkit. And Microsoft will update its security tools to detect and remove the rootkit. That makes a lot of sense. If Windows crashes because of this — and others of this ilk — Microsoft will be blamed.

Posted on November 11, 2005 at 12:23 PMView Comments

Sony Secretly Installs Rootkit on Computers

Mark Russinovich discovered a rootkit on his system. After much analysis, he discovered that the rootkit was installed as a part of the DRM software linked with a CD he bought. The package cannot be uninstalled. Even worse, the package actively cloaks itself from process listings and the file system.

At that point I knew conclusively that the rootkit and its associated files were related to the First 4 Internet DRM software Sony ships on its CDs. Not happy having underhanded and sloppily written software on my system I looked for a way to uninstall it. However, I didn’t find any reference to it in the Control Panel’s Add or Remove Programs list, nor did I find any uninstall utility or directions on the CD or on First 4 Internet’s site. I checked the EULA and saw no mention of the fact that I was agreeing to have software put on my system that I couldn’t uninstall. Now I was mad.

Removing the rootkit kills Windows.

Could Sony have violated the the Computer Misuse Act in the UK? If this isn’t clearly in the EULA, they have exceeded their privilege on the customer’s system by installing a rootkit to hide their software.

Certainly Mark has a reasonable lawsuit against Sony in the U.S.

EDITED TO ADD: The Washington Post is covering this story.

Sony lies about their rootkit:

November 2, 2005 – This Service Pack removes the cloaking technology component that has been recently discussed in a number of articles published regarding the XCP Technology used on SONY BMG content protected CDs. This component is not malicious and does not compromise security. However to alleviate any concerns that users may have about the program posing potential security vulnerabilities, this update has been released to enable users to remove this component from their computers.

Their update does not remove the rootkit, it just gets rid of the $sys$ cloaking.

Ed Felton has a great post on the issue:

The update is more than 3.5 megabytes in size, and it appears to contain new versions of almost all the files included in the initial installation of the entire DRM system, as well as creating some new files. In short, they’re not just taking away the rootkit-like function — they’re almost certainly adding things to the system as well. And once again, they’re not disclosing what they’re doing.

No doubt they’ll ask us to just trust them. I wouldn’t. The companies still assert — falsely — that the original rootkit-like software “does not compromise security” and “[t]here should be no concern” about it. So I wouldn’t put much faith in any claim that the new update is harmless. And the companies claim to have developed “new ways of cloaking files on a hard drive”. So I wouldn’t derive much comfort from carefully worded assertions that they have removed “the … component .. that has been discussed”.

And you can use the rootkit to avoid World of Warcraft spyware.

World of Warcraft hackers have confirmed that the hiding capabilities of Sony BMG’s content protection software can make tools made for cheating in the online world impossible to detect.


EDITED TO ADD: F-Secure makes a good point:

A member of our IT security team pointed out quite chilling thought about what might happen if record companies continue adding rootkit based copy protection into their CDs.

In order to hide from the system a rootkit must interface with the OS on very low level and in those areas theres no room for error.

It is hard enough to program something on that level, without having to worry about any other programs trying to do something with same parts of the OS.

Thus if there would be two DRM rootkits on the same system trying to hook same APIs, the results would be highly unpredictable. Or actually, a system crash is quite predictable result in such situation.

EDITED TO ADD: Declan McCullagh has a good essay on the topic. There will be lawsuits.

EDITED TO ADD: The Italian police are getting involved.

EDITED TO ADD: Here’s a Trojan that uses Sony’s rootkit to hide.

EDITED TO ADD: Sony temporarily halts production of CDs protected with this technology.

Posted on November 1, 2005 at 10:17 AMView Comments

Blizzard Entertainment Uses Spyware to Verify EULA Compliance


I recently performed a rather long reversing session on a piece of software written by Blizzard Entertainment, yes — the ones who made Warcraft, and World of Warcraft (which has 4.5 million+ players now, apparently). This software is known as the ‘warden client’ — its written like shellcode in that it’s position independent. It is downloaded on the fly from Blizzard’s servers, and it runs about every 15 seconds. It is one of the most interesting pieces of spyware to date, because it is designed only to verify compliance with a EULA/TOS. Here is what it does, about every 15 seconds, to about 4.5 million people (500,000 of which are logged on at any given time):

The warden dumps all the DLL’s using a ToolHelp API call. It reads information from every DLL loaded in the ‘world of warcraft’ executable process space. No big deal.

The warden then uses the GetWindowTextA function to read the window text in the titlebar of every window. These are windows that are not in the WoW process, but any program running on your computer. Now a Big Deal.

I watched the warden sniff down the email addresses of people I was communicating with on MSN, the URL of several websites that I had open at the time, and the names of all my running programs, including those that were minimized or in the toolbar. These strings can easily contain social security numbers or credit card numbers, for example, if I have Microsoft Excel or Quickbooks open w/ my personal finances at the time.

Once these strings are obtained, they are passed through a hashing function and compared against a list of ‘banning hashes’ — if you match something in their list, I suspect you will get banned. …

Next, warden opens every process running on your computer. … I watched warden open my email program, and even my PGP key manager. Again, I feel this is a fairly severe violation of privacy, but what can you do? It would be very easy to devise a test where the warden clearly reads confidential or personal information without regard.

This behavior places the warden client squarely in the category of spyware. What is interesting about this is that it might be the first use of spyware to verify compliance with a EULA. I cannot imagine that such practices will be legal in the future, but right now in terms of law, this is the wild wild west. You can’t blame Blizz for trying, as well as any other company, but this practice will have to stop if we have any hope of privacy. Agree w/ botting or game cheaters or not, this is a much larger issue called ‘privacy’ and Blizz has no right to be opening my excel or PGP programs, for whatever reason.

EDITED TO ADD: Blizzard responds. See also here. Several commenters say that this is no big deal. I think that a program that does all of this without the knowledge or consent of the user is a big deal. This is a program designed to spy on the user and report back to Blizzard. It’s pretty benign, but the next company who does this may be less so. It definitely counts as spyware.

EDITED TO ADD: This is a great post by EFF on the topic.

EDITED TO ADD: BBC has an article on the topic.

Posted on October 13, 2005 at 2:11 PM

Trusted Computing Best Practices

The Trusted Computing Group (TCG) is an industry consortium that is trying to build more secure computers. They have a lot of members, although the board of directors consists of Microsoft, Sony, AMD, Intel, IBM, SUN, HP, and two smaller companies who are voted on in a rotating basis.

The basic idea is that you build a computer from the ground up securely, with a core hardware “root of trust” called a Trusted Platform Module (TPM). Applications can run securely on the computer, can communicate with other applications and their owners securely, and can be sure that no untrusted applications have access to their data or code.

This sounds great, but it’s a double-edged sword. The same system that prevents worms and viruses from running on your computer might also stop you from using any legitimate software that your hardware or operating system vendor simply doesn’t like. The same system that protects spyware from accessing your data files might also stop you from copying audio and video files. The same system that ensures that all the patches you download are legitimate might also prevent you from, well, doing pretty much anything.

(Ross Anderson has an excellent FAQ on the topic. I wrote about it back when Microsoft called it Palladium.)

In May, the Trusted Computing Group published a best practices document: “Design, Implementation, and Usage Principles for TPM-Based Platforms.” Written for users and implementers of TCG technology, the document tries to draw a line between good uses and bad uses of this technology.

The principles that TCG believes underlie the effective, useful, and acceptable design, implementation, and use of TCG technologies are the following:

  • Security: TCG-enabled components should achieve controlled access to designated critical secured data and should reliably measure and report the system’s security properties. The reporting mechanism should be fully under the owner’s control.
  • Privacy: TCG-enabled components should be designed and implemented with privacy in mind and adhere to the letter and spirit of all relevant guidelines, laws, and regulations. This includes, but is not limited to, the OECD Guidelines, the Fair Information Practices, and the European Union Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC).
  • Interoperability: Implementations and deployments of TCG specifications should facilitate interoperability. Furthermore, implementations and deployments of TCG specifications should not introduce any new interoperability obstacles that are not for the purpose of security.
  • Portability of data: Deployment should support established principles and practices of data ownership.
  • Controllability: Each owner should have effective choice and control over the use and operation of the TCG-enabled capabilities that belong to them; their participation must be opt-in. Subsequently, any user should be able to reliably disable the TCG functionality in a way that does not violate the owner’s policy.
  • Ease-of-use: The nontechnical user should find the TCG-enabled capabilities comprehensible and usable.

It’s basically a good document, although there are some valid criticisms. I like that the document clearly states that coercive use of the technology — forcing people to use digital rights management systems, for example, are inappropriate:

The use of coercion to effectively force the use of the TPM capabilities is not an appropriate use of the TCG technology.

I like that the document tries to protect user privacy:

All implementations of TCG-enabled components should ensure that the TCG technology is not inappropriately used for data aggregation of personal information/

I wish that interoperability were more strongly enforced. The language has too much wiggle room for companies to break interoperability under the guise of security:

Furthermore, implementations and deployments of TCG specifications should not introduce any new interoperability obstacles that are not for the purpose of security.

That sounds good, but what does “security” mean in that context? Security of the user against malicious code? Security of big media against people copying music and videos? Security of software vendors against competition? The big problem with TCG technology is that it can be used to further all three of these “security” goals, and this document is where “security” should be better defined.

Complaints aside, it’s a good document and we should all hope that companies follow it. Compliance is totally voluntary, but it’s the kind of document that governments and large corporations can point to and demand that vendors follow.

But there’s something fishy going on. Microsoft is doing its best to stall the document, and to ensure that it doesn’t apply to Vista (formerly known as Longhorn), Microsoft’s next-generation operating system.

The document was first written in the fall of 2003, and went through the standard review process in early 2004. Microsoft delayed the adoption and publication of the document, demanding more review. Eventually the document was published in June of this year (with a May date on the cover).

Meanwhile, the TCG built a purely software version of the specification: Trusted Network Connect (TNC). Basically, it’s a TCG system without a TPM.

The best practices document doesn’t apply to TNC, because Microsoft (as a member of the TCG board of directors) blocked it. The excuse is that the document hadn’t been written with software-only applications in mind, so it shouldn’t apply to software-only TCG systems.

This is absurd. The document outlines best practices for how the system is used. There’s nothing in it about how the system works internally. There’s nothing unique to hardware-based systems, nothing that would be different for software-only systems. You can go through the document yourself and replace all references to “TPM” or “hardware” with “software” (or, better yet, “hardware or software”) in five minutes. There are about a dozen changes, and none of them make any meaningful difference.

The only reason I can think of for all this Machiavellian maneuvering is that the TCG board of directors is making sure that the document doesn’t apply to Vista. If the document isn’t published until after Vista is released, then obviously it doesn’t apply.

Near as I can tell, no one is following this story. No one is asking why TCG best practices apply to hardware-based systems if they’re writing software-only specifications. No one is asking why the document doesn’t apply to all TCG systems, since it’s obviously written without any particular technology in mind. And no one is asking why the TCG is delaying the adoption of any software best practices.

I believe the reason is Microsoft and Vista, but clearly there’s some investigative reporting to be done.

(A version of this essay previously appeared on CNet’s News.com and ZDNet.)

EDITED TO ADD: This comment completely misses my point. Which is odd; I thought I was pretty clear.

EDITED TO ADD: There is a thread on Slashdot on the topic.

EDITED TO ADD: The Sydney Morning Herald republished this essay. Also “The Age.”

Posted on August 31, 2005 at 8:27 AMView Comments

The Kutztown 13

Thirteen Pennsylvania high-school kids — Kutztown 13 — are being charged with felonies:

They’re being called the Kutztown 13 — a group of high schoolers charged with felonies for bypassing security with school-issued laptops, downloading forbidden internet goodies and using monitoring software to spy on district administrators.

The students, their families and outraged supporters say authorities are overreacting, punishing the kids not for any heinous behavior — no malicious acts are alleged — but rather because they outsmarted the district’s technology workers….

The trouble began last fall after the district issued some 600 Apple iBook laptops to every student at the high school about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The computers were loaded with a filtering program that limited Internet access. They also had software that let administrators see what students were viewing on their screens.

But those barriers proved easily surmountable: The administrative password that allowed students to reconfigure computers and obtain unrestricted Internet access was easy to obtain. A shortened version of the school’s street address, the password was taped to the backs of the computers.

The password got passed around and students began downloading such forbidden programs as the popular iChat instant-messaging tool.

At least one student viewed pornography. Some students also turned off the remote monitoring function and turned the tables on their elders_ using it to view administrators’ own computer screens.

There’s more to the story, though. Here’s some good commentary on the issue:

What the parents don’t mention — but the school did in a press release— is that it wasn’t as if the school came down with the Hammer of God out of nowhere.

These kids were caught and punished for doing this stuff, and their parents informed.

Over and over.

Quoth the release:

“Unfortunately, after repeated warnings and disciplinary actions, a few students continued to misuse the school-issued laptops to varying degrees. The disciplinary actions included detentions, in-school suspensions, loss of Internet access, and loss of computer privileges. After each disciplinary action, parents received either written notification or telephone calls.”

What was the parents’ reaction those disciplinary actions? Some of them complained that — despite signing a document agreeing to the acceptable use policy — the kids should be able to do whatever they wanted to with the free machines.

“We signed it, but we didn’t mean it”?

Yes, the kids should be punished. No, a felony comviction is not the way to punish them.

The problem is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Breaking the rules is what kids do. Society needs to deal with that, yes, but it needs to deal with that in a way that doesn’t ruin lives. Deterrence is critical if we are to ever have a lawful society on the internet, but deterrence has to come from rational prosecution. This simply isn’t rational.

EDITED TO ADD (2 Sep): It seems that charges have been dropped.

Posted on August 22, 2005 at 6:56 AMView Comments

Redefining Spyware

The problem with spyware is that it can be in the eye of the beholder. There are companies that decry the general problem, but have their own software report back to a central server.

This kind of thing can result in a conflict of interest: “Spyware is spyware only if I don’t have a corporate interest in it.” Here’s the most recent example:

Microsoft’s Windows AntiSpyware application is no longer flagging adware products from Claria Corp. as a threat to PC users.

Less than a week after published reports of acquisition talks between Microsoft Corp. and the Redwood City, Calif.-based distributor of the controversial Gator ad-serving software, security researchers have discovered that Microsoft has quietly downgraded its Claria detections.

If you’re a user of AntiSpyware, you can fix this. Claria’s spyware is now flagged as “Ignore” by default, but you can still change the action to “Quarantine” or “Remove.” I recommend “Remove.”

Edited to add: Actually, I recommend using a different anti-spyware program.

Posted on July 14, 2005 at 5:05 PMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.