Sony Sells Spyware

It’s been an extraordinarily busy couple of days in the malware detection business. Sony has been all over the news – and the news isn’t so good for them. [Sony BMG Kills Daft DRM CD Rootkit Scheme, Sony Learns a Hard Lesson, Microsoft will identify the XCP software as malware, Sony halts production of CD’s] In an effort to protect the intellectual property of Sony BMG musicians, Sony has embedded some pretty nasty software on the computer systems of their consumers – including me.

If you want to know the grim details, you should read the recent posts over at Sysinternals (Mark Russinovich’s blog). But here are the highlights. Sony has contracted with a DRM technology vendor to “protect” its music from computer piracy. The DRM scheme they have chosen does not allow the customer to use customary PC tools to listen to the music. Instead, the software requires the consumer to install a special player. And along with that player comes a whole bunch of other stuff – including rootkit technology that can be exploited by others for even more nefarious purposes.

My viewpoint is simple. I bought an album from a band I truly love. And in the process, I have been exposed to some very nasty exploits. But it is not the fault of the artists. In fact, the bassist for Switchfoot even went so far as to describe how to defeat this DRM scheme. He didn’t do this to anger his label. Rather, he did this so that his fans could put their music on their iPods. The band and I have both been used. If a vendor places hidden technology in a product, and that technology monitors customer behavior w/o first informing the customer of the monitoring, then that technology should be classified as spyware.

Fortunately, I have removed the spyware from my system – at least, I think I have. I went through Sony BMG’s multi-step process to remove the software. I gave them my name, my email address and I gave them system identifying data – just so I could get their spyware off my system. It took almost three days to get everything off, but I think it’s gone. But I now have so little trust for Sony BMG that I will use any scanning tools at my disposal to ensure that this thing is gone. I’ve used RootKitRevealer. And I will use the Microsoft Windows Anti-Spyware tools when they become available. And I’ll use whatever else I can find to ensure that this stuff is gone.

Why? It’s simple. Sony lied to me. They invaded my system because they felt they couldn’t trust me. Worse still, they eventually relented and “offerred” a means to fix the problem. But they only offered half-steps. They wanted me to install a “service pack” for their spyware – so that it couldn’t be exploited. But I chose to decline that offer and requested complete removal instead. In the final analysis, they forced me to jump through a Cheerio to solve the problems they caused when they invaded my system.

There is nothing that I have done to warrant this treatment. Indeed, I’m one of the good guys. I bought the CD. The funny thing is that I thought about getting it from iTunes first. But I wanted to send a message that people still buy CD’s from stores. Well, I got punished for sending that message. And now, I no longer trust the record labels. I still love Switchfoot. But Sony BMG just lost future business from a good customer.

P.S. If you want to learn more about rootkits, I recommend Greg Hoglund’s book at


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