Companies Investigate Claim of AACS Crack

We all knew it was just a matter of time until a credible attempt to crack the encyrption used in high-definition DVDs emerged…and that time may be now. A programmer working under the monicker Muslix64 has posted a video, a Java-based program for Windows called BackupHDDVD, and details of how he successfully copied several films, including Warner Bros. Full Metal Jacket and Universal Studios Van Helsing, promising to follow-up with more source code and materials on January 2, 2007, to enable users to copy a wider range of movie titles.

If valid, the vulnerability could pose a threat to movie studios relying on AACS technology to prevent piracy of high-definition digital movies—although Muslix64, of course, touts the workaround only as a tool to enable users to back up their legitimately licensed movies, not as a tool for piracy.

AACS stands for Advanced Access Content System, and was jointly developed by a group of companies including Intel, Disney, Microsoft, Matsushita, IBM, Toshiba, Sony, and Warner Bros. The technology was standardized in April 2005 and is used as an encryption system in both HD DVD and Blu-ray high-definition DVD titles. AACS theoretically enables publishers to “revoke” keys to individual players if they become compromised, preventing new titles from working on compromised players.

It’s not clear at this point if Muslix64’s BackupHDDVD approach can be rendered moot by key revocation; however, if the encryption code itself has been cracked, then in theory any high-definition DVD disc could be copied.

Some fair use advocates are hailing the appearance of BackupHDDVD, arguing it restores consumer rights granted under the law but curtailed by licensing and technology restrictions imposed by media studios and distributors. Media companies themselves are mostly silent, saying only that they’re examining Muslix64’s claim, but it seems unlikely they would be pleased with software which enables wholesale copying of high-definition video content.