New Sony CD security risk found

Record label fixes hole in copy-protection software exposed by digital rights group, security researchers.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
2 min read
Sony BMG Music Entertainment and the Electronic Frontier Foundation digital rights group jointly announced Tuesday that they had found, and fixed, a new computer security risk associated with some of the record label's CDs.

The danger is associated with copy-protection software included on some Sony discs created by a company called SunnComm Technologies. The vulnerability could allow malicious programmers to gain control of computers that have run the software, which is typically installed automatically when a disc is put in a computer's CD drive.

Sony's rootkit fiasco

The issue affects a different set of CDs than the ones involved in the copy-protection gaffe that led Sony to recall 4.7 million CDs last month, and which has triggered several lawsuits against the record label.

"We're pleased that Sony BMG responded quickly and responsibly when we drew their attention to this security problem," EFF staff attorney Kurt Opsahl said in a statement. "Consumers should take immediate steps to protect their computers."

The announcement is the latest result of the detailed scrutiny applied by the technical community to Sony's copy-protected discs, after a string of serious security issues were found to be associated with the label's antipiracy efforts.

The record label's copy-protected discs have been on the market for more than eight months. But in late October, blogger Mark Russinovich discovered that they surreptitiously installed a "rootkit" programming tool. Rootkit tools are typically used by hackers to hide viruses on hard drives, so Sony's move opened up a potentially serious security hole.

The controversy escalated as other researchers discovered new security flaws associated with the copy-protected CDs, which used technology from British company First 4 Internet. Virus writers began distributing malicious code that took advantage of the holes. The label recalled all the discs with the First 4 Internet technology installed, offering an exchange program for consumers who had purchased any of the 52 CDs affected.

Following those revelations, the EFF asked computer security company iSec Partners to study the SunnComm copy protection technology, which Sony said has been distributed with 27 of its CDs in the United States. iSec found the hole announced Tuesday and notified Sony, but news of the risk was not released until SunnComm had created a patch.

Sony said another security company, NGS Software, has tested the patch and certified that it addresses the vulnerability.

The patch can be downloaded from Sony's site. A list of the CDs affected in the United States, and a slightly different list in Canada, is also posted on the site.

Sony said it will notify customers though a banner advertisement directly in the SunnComm software, as well as through an Internet advertising campaign.