HDCP cracked; opens door for DRM-free HD boxes

Hackers have cracked the antipiracy code commonly used in set-top boxes, and Blu-ray and DVD players, Intel told several news outlets yesterday. Rumors flew Tuesday that the High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) technology was compromised. Intel confirmed the news yesterday.

Intel spokesman Tom Waldrop said the code published online “appears” to be a master key. Users can derive keys from this published master key that will work on devices that use the copy protection technology.

HDCP prevents the copying of audio and video content playing on HD devices like TVs and players for Blu-ray and DVDs.The digital rights management software is required when playing audio and video content over HDMI cables (and other cables) that connect flat-panel TVs to gaming systems or other HD drvices.

The hack unlocks DRMed content by providing the master key, which can then strip the encryption that’s on the cable box and DVR. With the encryption removed, anyone can make unlimited copies of HD content. Copy protection software becomes moot.

Expect to see DRM-free movies and games flooding the black market soon.

With DRM cracked, the way is open to build new HD devices, as well, and bypass the license fees Intel charges for the privilege. However, Intel doesn’t expect illegal hardware to pop up anytime soon, pointing out there is a lot of work and expense involved in making the DRM-free computer chip, and then embedding in to a device. There is a risk that vendors in countries with less stringent copyright regulations will take on the hassle and start manufacturing DRM-free Blu-ray players and TVs. This would mean a hit for Intel’s license fees and illegal hardware would impact retail sales of the devices.

Despite the hackers’ victory, Intel said encryption technology is still sound and remains the best way to protect content.

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