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Ontario Technoblog

Ontario Emperor technology blog.

This blog has been superseded by the mrontemp blog
Location: Ontario, California, United States

Sometime audio artist. Email comments on this blog to the gmail account mrontemp.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

You responded Beef (Microsoft Outlook voting features)

Someone in my company sent me a Microsoft Outlook e-mail asking me to RSVP to our holiday party. (Our company is politically correct.)

The sender used Outlook's voting feature to not only record whether or not the recipients would attend the party, but also to record their meal preferences (we have to tell the hotel what meals we will be ordering).

The choices are Beef, Chicken, Fish, Vegetarian, and Decline (the latter is to be used if you don't plan to attend the party).

Because my company does not allow alcohol at company events, a voting button for "No Food Just Booze" was not included.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

What Goes On

I finally downloaded Google Earth, which I was discussing here a few months ago ([1] [2] [3]). I'm still at a very basic level, looking at my wife's car and traveling across the country. Meanwhile, other people have the belief that buildings are speaking to them, are talking about "Google Space" at Heathrow, and are touting the features of the new Google Middle Earth.

Meanwhile, Spatially Adjusted is noting the Google Earth may be the ideal tool for some GIS applications, if it beefs itself up:

I’ve been talking quite a bit over the past few weeks about why I think Google Earth will become the default GIS viewer in the next year, but I thought I’d also post about what might keep it from [be]coming that viewer....

GE should be able to handle different projections on the fly. ArcGIS has done this for years and I think it is a requirement for any GIS data viewer. Because most of our work is for the U.S. Department of Defense, we deal in UTM and State Plane most of the time. I’d just rather not have to worry about changing projections (or have an ArcGIS extension do this for me)....

I’d like to have an API exposed so I can add buttons and forms so I can add or subtract features I don’t need. Google Earth is simple, but sometimes I need something even more simple....

As we load up more complex information into Google Earth, we’ll need a better “Find” dialog to get at this data. I’m not sure how Google will view this since they are all about “I feel lucky”, but I know many Engineers and Planners who will want this capability....

We need better information about what the acquire date of the satellite imagery is and the source of the road information. I don’t want phone calls from clients telling me that the photo is out of date when at the bottom of the screen it says “Copyright 2005 Google”....

Google Earth is a “geoviewer”, not an analysis tool. GE is about a 70% solution toward a great GIS tool, but its limitations are showing up in how I’d like to deploy it for my clients. I can see many cases when Google Earth is all they would need, but I suspect unless Google Earth opens up more on many of the above points as well as their planned updates to the datasets, I’ll probably be looking more toward ArcExplorer....

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sony Fallout

Here's an update on the previously reported Sony copy protection scheme which some have characterized as malware.

Here's an excerpt from the first of two articles courtesy Security Pipeline:

After two weeks of withering criticism from bloggers and others, Sony BMG Music Entertainment last week found itself forced to stop selling some 50 CD titles with its Extended Copy Protection content-protection software, remove the discs from stores, and offer replacements without copy protection to customers.

Sony issued an apology on its Web site, citing security concerns raised by installation of the XCP software, provided--as Sony was quick to point out--by digital-rights-management vendor First4Internet Ltd.

And here's part of the second article from Security Pipeline:

Sony's controversial copy-protection scheme had been in use for seven months before its cloaking rootkit was discovered, leading one analyst to question the effectiveness of the security industry.
"[For] at least for seven months, Sony BMG Music CD buyers have been installing rootkits on their PCs. Why then did no security software vendor detect a problem and alert customers?" asked Joe Wilcox, an analyst with JupiterResearch.

"Where the failure is, that's the question mark. Is it an indictment of how consumers view security software, that they have a sense of false protection, even when they don't update their anti-virus and anti-spyware software?

"Or is it in how data is collected by security companies and how they're analyzing to catch trends?"

For the record, here is Sony's statement on the matter:

November 18, 2005
To Our Valued Customers:

You may be aware of the recent attention given to the XCP content protection software included on some SONY BMG CDs. This software was provided to us by a third-party vendor, First4Internet. Discussion has centered on security concerns raised about the use of CDs containing this software.

We share the concerns of consumers regarding these discs, and we are instituting a mail-in program that will allow consumers to exchange any CD with XCP software for the same CD without copy protection and receive MP3 files of the same title. We also have asked our retail partners to remove all unsold CDs with XCP software from their store shelves and inventory. Please click here for exchange program details.

We deeply regret any inconvenience this may cause our customers and we are committed to making this situation right. It is important to note that the issues regarding these discs exist only when they are played on computers, not on conventional, non-computer-based CD and/or DVD players.

Our new initiatives follow the measures we have already taken, including the voluntary suspension of the manufacture of CDs with the XCP software. In addition, to address security concerns, we provided to major software and anti-virus companies a software update, which also may be downloaded at http://cp.sonybmg.com/xcp/english/updates.html. We will shortly provide a simplified and secure procedure to uninstall the XCP software if it resides on your computer.

Ultimately, the experience of consumers is our primary concern, and our goal is to help bring our artists' music to as broad an audience as possible. Going forward, we will continue to identify new ways to meet demands for flexibility in how you and other consumers listen to music.

Please click here for an FAQ on this topic.

# # #

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

So So Sony

Snort a Sprocket links to Marks' SysInternals Blog:

Last week when I was testing the latest version of RootkitRevealer (RKR) I ran a scan on one of my systems and was shocked to see evidence of a rootkit. Rootkits are cloaking technologies that hide files, Registry keys, and other system objects from diagnostic and security software, and they are usually employed by malware attempting to keep their implementation hidden....

[After some extensive work] [t]he cloak was gone as I expected and I could see all the previously hidden files in Explorer and Registry keys in Regedit. I doubted that the files had any version information, but ran my Sigcheck utility on them anyway. To my surprise, the majority did have identifying product, file and company strings. I had already recognized Dbghelp.dll and Unicows.dll as Microsoft Windows DLLs by their names. The other files claimed to be part of the “Essential System Tools” product from a company called “First 4 Internet”...

I entered the company name into my Internet browser’s address bar and went to http://www.first4internet.com/. I searched for both the product name and Aries.sys, but came up empty. However, the fact that the company sells a technology called XCP made me think that maybe the files I’d found were part of some content protection scheme. I Googled the company name and came across this article, confirming the fact that they have deals with several record companies, including Sony, to implement Digital Rights Management (DRM) software for CDs.

The DRM reference made me recall having purchased a CD recently that can only be played using the media player that ships on the CD itself and that limits you to at most 3 copies. I scrounged through my CD’s and found it, Sony BMG’s Get Right with the Man (the name is ironic under the circumstances) CD by the Van Zant brothers. I hadn’t noticed when I purchased the CD from Amazon.com that it’s protected with DRM software....

I inserted the CD into the drive and double-clicked on the icon to launch the player software, which has icons for making up to three copy-protected backup CDs....

Process Explorer showed the player as being from Macromedia, but I noticed an increase in CPU usage by $sys$DRMServer.exe, one of the previously cloaked images, when I pressed the play button. A look at the Services tab of its process properties dialog showed it contains a service named “Plug and Play Device Manager”, which is obviously an attempt to mislead the casual user that stumbles across it in the Services MMC snapin (services.msc) into thinking that it’s a core part of Windows....

I closed the player and expected $sys$DRMServer’s CPU usage to drop to zero, but was dismayed to see that it was still consuming between one and two percent. It appears I was paying an unknown CPU penalty for just having the process active on my system. I launched Filemon and Regmon to see what it might be doing and the Filemon trace showed that it scans the executables corresponding to the running processes on the system every two seconds, querying basic information about the files, including their size, eight times each scan....

I knew conclusively that the rootkit and its associated files were related to the First 4 Internet DRM software Sony ships on its CDs. Not happy having underhanded and sloppily written software on my system I looked for a way to uninstall it. However, I didn’t find any reference to it in the Control Panel’s Add or Remove Programs list, nor did I find any uninstall utility or directions on the CD or on First 4 Internet’s site. I checked the EULA and saw no mention of the fact that I was agreeing to have software put on my system that I couldn't uninstall. Now I was mad....

The entire experience was frustrating and irritating. Not only had Sony put software on my system that uses techniques commonly used by malware to mask its presence, the software is poorly written and provides no means for uninstall. Worse, most users that stumble across the cloaked files with a RKR scan will cripple their computer if they attempt the obvious step of deleting the cloaked files.

While I believe in the media industry’s right to use copy protection mechanisms to prevent illegal copying, I don’t think that we’ve found the right balance of fair use and copy protection, yet. This is a clear case of Sony taking DRM too far.