A big thing in the hacker scene is the "rootkit", which allows for taking over PCs, creating back-doors, etc. Now we seem to have a concrete example of a large corporation (or at least, one division thereof) willing to exploit the home computers of private citizens.
According to the following article, if you've played a Sony music CD on your computer that includes the XCP scheme, hidden software has been installed. One day someone found out and publicized it, noting that if you remove the Sony rootkit -- apparently, even with the patch Sony later felt compelled to release -- you can't listen to the CD you bought or make any use of your CD-ROM drive.
While the Sony rootkit isn't much of a de facto security threat, it does use powerful techniques. It's also likely that other budding hackers will take note of how well they work.
"Sony has released a patch for a music CD anti piracy technology after security experts warned that it forms a potential security risk.
The copyright protection software would automatically install when a consumer inserted a music CD with the XCP digital rights management technology in their computers. The software is designed to limit the number of copies that users can make of the CD and restrict ripping of the disk.
Software developer Mark Russinovich of Sysinternals on Monday reported that he had detected that Sony secretly had installed a rootkit on his system. He traced the software back to Sony and the XCP technology from First 4 Internet, an English software developer.
The rootkit served to hide the digital rights management technology from the user as well as the system itself, including anti virus software. When Russinovich tried to remove the application, he found that his CD drive was disabled.
Sony uses the rootkit to prevent the user from removing the copyright protection technology and violating Sony's copyright. But worm authors too could abuse this feature to hide malicious applications.
The patch will remove the cloaking capability of the software to enable users to remove the Sony tool. This will however render their systems incapable of playing the music CDs."
In a different explanation we find:
"But according to Mikko Hypponen, director of research for Finnish antivirus company F-Secure Corp., users who want to remove the program may not do so directly, but must fill out a form on Sony's Web site, download additional software, wait for a phone call from a technical support specialist, and then download and install yet another program that removes the files.
Hypponen agreed that Sony's software could help hackers circumvent most antivirus products on the market today. He added that installing the Sony program on a machine running Windows Vista -- the beta version of the next iteration of Microsoft Windows -- 'breaks the operating system spectacularly.'
'The people they're trying to stop from stealing their music are always going to find a way around these types of technologies,' Eisner said. 'Sony is just hurting people who obtain their products legally, and many of these same people are now going to think twice about doing so.'"