A software patch released by Sony BMG Music Entertainment after an uproar over its XCP (Extended Copy Protection) CD copy protection software may cause some computers to crash, according to the computer expert at the heart of the controversy. On Friday, Mark Russinovich, chief software architect at Winternals Software LP, published further research on Sony’s XCP copy protection software that addresses the patch problem and raises new privacy concerns about the product.
Russinovich said that a design flaw in Sony’s patch theoretically could cause a computer to crash as the software is installed. Though the risk of such an occurrence is small, Russinovich said that the problem is a further mark against Sony’s reputation.
“It’s obvious that whoever’s written this doesn’t have all that much experience in writing drivers for Windows,” he said in an interview Friday.
Sony released the patch last Wednesday following complaints from computer enthusiasts that XCP used methods commonly associated with spyware and viruses to make itself nearly impossible to detect or remove from a PC. If the software were to slow down a computer’s performance or somehow be exploited by hackers, it could be extremely difficult to repair, according to Russinovich and other critics.
The patch makes XCP visible to system tools and antivirus products.
Sony licenses XCP from a Banbury, England-based company called First 4 Internet Ltd. and began shipping the software with some of its CDs earlier this year to restrict unauthorized copying. Sony executives said that only about 20 music titles have shipped with the software.
First 4 CEO Mathew Gilliat-Smith declined to comment for this story. He directed IDG News Service to a comment on Russinovich’s Weblog, which disputed the Windows researcher’s conclusions. The posting, written by an unidentified Sony employee, according to Gilliat-Smith, called Russinovich’s conclusions about a possible system crash “pure conjecture.”
In his Weblog posting on Friday, Russinovich also published further research showing that the XCP software appears to be in communication with Sony’s Web site, something that had not previously been disclosed. The client appears to connect with Sony’s servers looking for updates to lyrics or album art, but the way the software operates raises privacy concerns, Russinovich said. “I doubt Sony is doing anything with the data, but with this type of connection, their servers could record each time a copy-protected CD is played and the IP address of the computer playing it,” he wrote in his blog posting.
Sony is not using the software to gather information on its users, said company spokesman John McKay. “No information ever gets gathered, that’s for sure,” he said.