The promise of high definition DVD for consumers is better image quality and more features. For movie production houses, that’s all nice but arguably as important is the promise of better encryption standards. The more secure the content, the less likely there will be theft. Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone put it succinctly in a speech Thursday. He said “If content is king, copyright is its castle.”
There’s no question that castle should be secure. The trouble for the studio’s is, when it comes to software, if it can be built it can be broken. For every tally they put on the scorecard for more security, somewhere, someone is going to try and undo it – even if the only goal is to see if they can unlock what’s supposed to be secure. And given enough time, they’re going to be successful at breaking through. Reports are, that happened this week with Blu Ray.
Blu Ray discs, the proprietary HD format from Sony and partners, rely on two primary encryption technologies to prevent any kind of duplication of the discs. The first layer is called AACS and it’s also in use by rival technology HD DVD.
AACS, which stands for Advanced Access Content System, didn’t put up a very good fight when challenged by hackers. In December 2006, an open source decryption utility unlocking AACS was published online. It was further pushed aside by hackers in April.
The second layer of security, which is exclusive to Blu Ray is called BD+ (short for BluRay Disc Plus). It wasn’t in use until June of this year but it’s been touted as a major security advantage over rival HD DVD.
Developed by a company called Cryptography Research, BD+ was based on the idea of self protecting content. It is essentially a software component that continuously monitors the disc and player for signs of tampering. It’s kind of like Virus Software except instead of monitoring for external threats against the user, it’s monitoring against threats from the viewer. When in place, the virtual machine of BD+ sits in wait and constantly monitors for errant behavior. It’s goal is to detect anything it’s code deems is inappropriate. If it finds something, like that virus software quarantining a bad file, it prevents the disc from playing.
The first discs using BD+ were released in October. It’s barely into November and it seems, that was still plenty enough time to circumvent it.
SlySoft, a software company with headquarters in Ireland and Antigua (and no U.S. footprint to make them susceptible to U.S. copyright law and Digital Millennium Act) is claiming (via employee web forum posts) that the latest version of their AnyDVD DVD backup and copy software fully supports BD+. If that is proven true, the claim means Blu Ray’s super special, extra tricky security …wasn’t that secure. SlySoft’s software is designed to bypass encryption and allow duplication.
The Blu Ray Disc Association hasn’t commented publicly yet on the claim but you can be sure, there will be more words on this. BD+ was supposed to be a significant advantage for studios over HD DVD. Like an extra padlock and chain around a safe, it was supposed to bring comfort that studio’s valuable content was secure. If that advantage is nullified, to the already confused marketplace, the battle for DVD standards could become even more confusing. (see the below article to see which sides the studios have taken so far in the DVD Standards war)