Descrambling the hard drive copy-protection scheme

By Tom Mainelli, InfoWorld |  Storage

A representative for 4C member Intel says the suggested ATA changes are generic and would allow vendors to incorporate any type of content protections -- not just CPRM. Furthermore,

CPRM would apply only to ATA-driven removable media such as microdrives and flash memory, not hard drives, in Intel's view.

"The scenario [opponents] put forth is hilarious," says Manny Vara, Intel spokesperson. The CPRM technology will not impact your current files; it simply doesn't work that way, he says. Besides, he adds, Intel wouldn't sanction its use in hard drives.

"This is not to be used with hard drives," he says. Using the technology to restrict what users can put on their hard drives, restricting what people do with their PCs, would be bad businesss for Intel, he says. More than 80 percent of the company's sales come from PC processors, chip sets, and motherboards, so it wants PCs to do more, not less, he says.

"We want to make sure that the PC will be able to play any type of cool new media that comes out," he says. That's why CPRM technology won't prevent you from ripping your own CDs or downloading free music from sites such as Napster. It simply will not impact today's content, he says.

So what would the technology do, exactly? According to Vara, the only time CPRM would kick in is if you downloaded CPRM-coded content, such as a song, and moved it to a CPRM-enabled MP3 player using CPRM-compliant storage.

No CPRM technology would ever reside on your hard drive, and despite its CPRM code, you could still do whatever you want with the content while it's on your hard drive, he says. But once it's on the CPRM device and media, it may stop you from replicating it further, he says.

So if you can copy the content from the hard drive, where is the security? Vara admits the system isn't foolproof, but he says it's a step in the right direction toward appeasing content owners.

Despite Vara's insistence that the 4C Entity never planned to use CPRM on hard drives, early reports suggest IBM's Lotspiech has discussed using the technology on hard drives. That's difficult to confirm with Lotspiech avoiding interviews, and hard drive vendors such as Seagate, Maxtor, and Quantum staying mum for the moment.

However, at least one member of the T13 group is talking. Andre Hedrick, a representative for Linux in the group and a storage industry consultant, says the original 4C plan was not specifically for hard drives. But because it is for use in the ATA standard, that "implied" it could be for hard drives, which is unacceptable, he says.

"I objected," he says. The 4C group listened and announced last week it will include a provision that lets end users disable the CPRM feature, should it eventually find its way onto future hard drives, he says.

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