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Professor Wants Exemption to Study Video Game Anti-Piracy Software

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University of Michigan Assistant Professor J. Alex Halderman

Alex Halderman, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, University of Michigan

University of Michigan

University of Michigan professor Alex Halderman wants to research whether the anti-piracy software built into computer games makes computers more vulnerable to hackers. He would have to break the law to do that. Halderman will ask the U.S. Copyright Office for a three-year exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to study the question. He says the DMCA prohibits tampering with copy protection, which means researchers could violate the law if they investigate and suggest repairs for any problems, potentially exposing themselves to lawsuits.

In 2003, SunnComm Technologies threatened to sue Halderman after he discovered that the company's new digital rights management (DRM) software was defective and easy to bypass. The software was designed to prevent CD owners from copying songs and uploading them to the Internet, but Halderman found that holding down the shift key when inserting the CD prevented the software from running, giving users access to the audio files. In 2005, Halderman and other researchers found that copy-protected music CDs sold by Sony BMG installed software that created major security holes in users' computers. Sony released a patch to fix the problem, but Halderman discovered that the patch created another vulnerability hackers could exploit.

If the Copyright Office grants Halderman's request, he plans to study the anti-piracy software on the game Spore, which installs a DRM program called SecuROM, which some users claim disables critical security measures, including firewalls and antivirus software.

From University of Michigan News Service
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