A very interesting article that was brought to my attention today. Didn't realise that it was this fucking bad :/
A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection
Peter Gutmann, email@example.com
Last updated 27 December 2006
Windows Vista includes an extensive reworking of core OS elements in order to provide content protection for so-called "premium content", typically HD data from Blu-Ray and HD-DVD sources. Providing this protection incurs considerable costs in terms of system performance, system stability, technical support overhead, and hardware and software cost. These issues affect not only users of Vista but the entire PC industry, since the effects of the protection measures extend to cover all hardware and software that will ever come into contact with Vista, even if it's not used directly with Vista (for example hardware in a Macintosh computer or on a Linux server). This document analyses the cost involved in Vista's content protection, and the collateral damage that this incurs throughout the computer industry.
Executive Executive Summary
The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history.
This document looks purely at the cost of the technical portions of Vista's content protection [Note A]. The political issues (under the heading of DRM) have been examined in exhaustive detail elsewhere and won't be commented on further, unless it's relevant to the cost analysis. However, one important point that must be kept in mind when reading this document is that in order to work, Vista's content protection must be able to violate the laws of physics, something that's unlikely to happen no matter how much the content industry wishes it were possible [Note B]. This conundrum is displayed over and over again in the Windows content-protection requirements, with manufacturers being given no hard-and-fast guidelines but instead being instructed that they need to display as much dedication as possible to the party line. The documentation is peppered with sentences like:
"It is recommended that a graphics manufacturer go beyond the strict letter of the specification and provide additional content-protection features, because this demonstrates their strong intent to protect premium content".
This is an exceedingly strange way to write technical specifications, but is dictated by the fact that what the spec is trying to achieve is fundamentally impossible. Readers should keep this requirement to display appropriate levels of dedication in mind when reading the following analysis [Note C].
Disabling of Functionality
Vista's content protection mechanism only allows protected content to be sent over interfaces that also have content-protection facilities built in. Currently the most common high-end audio output interface is S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format). Most newer audio cards, for example, feature TOSlink digital optical output for high-quality sound reproduction, and even the latest crop of motherboards with integrated audio provide at least coax (and often optical) digital output. Since S/PDIF doesn't provide any content protection, Vista requires that it be disabled when playing protected content [Note D]. In other words if you've sunk a pile of money into a high-end audio setup fed from an S/PDIF digital output, you won't be able to use it with protected content. Similarly, component (YPbPr) video will be disabled by Vista's content protection, so the same applies to a high-end video setup fed from component video.
Indirect Disabling of Functionality
As well as overt disabling of functionality, there's also covert disabling of functionality. For example PC voice communications rely on automatic echo cancellation (AEC) in order to work. AEC requires feeding back a sample of the audio mix into the echo cancellation subsystem, but with Vista's content protection this isn't permitted any more because this might allow access to premium content. What is permitted is a highly-degraded form of feedback that might possibly still sort-of be enough for some sort of minimal echo cancellation purposes.
The requirement to disable audio and video output plays havoc with standard system operations, because the security policy used is a so-called "system high" policy: The overall sensitivity level is that of the most sensitive data present in the system. So the instant any audio derived from premium content appears on your system, signal degradation and disabling of outputs will occur. What makes this particularly entertaining is the fact that the downgrading/disabling is dynamic, so if the premium-content signal is intermittent or varies (for example music that fades out), various outputs and output quality will fade in and out, or turn on and off, in sync. Normally this behaviour would be a trigger for reinstalling device drivers or even a warranty return of the affected hardware, but in this case it's just a signal that everything is functioning as intended.
Decreased Playback Quality
Alongside the all-or-nothing approach of disabling output, Vista requires that any interface that provides high-quality output degrade the signal quality that passes through it if premium content is present. This is done through a "constrictor" that downgrades the signal to a much lower-quality one, then up-scales it again back to the original spec, but with a significant loss in quality. So if you're using an expensive new LCD display fed from a high-quality DVI signal on your video card and there's protected content present, the picture you're going to see will be, as the spec puts it, "slightly fuzzy", a bit like a 10-year-old CRT monitor that you picked up for $2 at a yard sale [Note E]. In fact the specification specifically still allows for old VGA analog outputs, but even that's only because disallowing them would upset too many existing owners of analog monitors. In the future even analog VGA output will probably have to be disabled. The only thing that seems to be explicitly allowed is the extremely low-quality TV-out, provided that Macrovision is applied to it.
The same deliberate degrading of playback quality applies to audio, with the audio being downgraded to sound (from the spec) "fuzzy with less detail" [Note F].
Amusingly, the Vista content protection docs say that it'll be left to graphics chip manufacturers to differentiate their product based on (deliberately degraded) video quality. This seems a bit like breaking the legs of Olympic athletes and then rating them based on how fast they can hobble on crutches.
Beyond the obvious playback-quality implications of deliberately degraded output, this measure can have serious repercussions in applications where high-quality reproduction of content is vital. For example the field of medical imaging either bans outright or strongly frowns on any form of lossy compression because artifacts introduced by the compression process can cause mis-diagnoses and in extreme cases even become life-threatening. Consider a medical IT worker who's using a medical imaging PC while listening to audio/video played back by the computer (the CDROM drives installed in workplace PCs inevitably spend most of their working lives playing music or MP3 CDs to drown out workplace noise). If there's any premium content present in there, the image will be subtly altered by Vista's content protection, potentially creating exactly the life-threatening situation that the medical industry has worked so hard to avoid. The scary thing is that there's no easy way around this - Vista will silently modify displayed content under certain (almost impossible-to-predict in advance) situations discernable only to Vista's built-in content-protection subsystem [Note G].
Elimination of Open-source Hardware Support
In order to prevent the creation of hardware emulators of protected output devices, Vista requires a Hardware Functionality Scan (HFS) that can be used to uniquely fingerprint a hardware device to ensure that it's (probably) genuine. In order to do this, the driver on the host PC performs an operation in the hardware (for example rendering 3D content in a graphics card) that produces a result that's unique to that device type.
In order for this to work, the spec requires that the operational details of the device be kept confidential. Obviously anyone who knows enough about the workings of a device to operate it and to write a third-party driver for it (for example one for an open-source OS, or in general just any non-Windows OS) will also know enough to fake the HFS process. The only way to protect the HFS process therefore is to not release any technical details on the device beyond a minimum required for web site reviews and comparison with other products.
Elimination of Unified Drivers
The HFS process has another cost involved with it. Most hardware vendors have (thankfully) moved to unified driver models instead of the plethora of individual drivers that abounded some years ago. Since HFS requires unique identification and handling of not just each device type (for example each graphics chip) but each variant of each device type (for example each stepping of each graphics chip) to handle the situation where a problem is found with one variation of a device, it's no longer possible to create one-size-fits-all drivers for an entire range of devices like the current Catalyst/Detonator/ForceWare drivers. Every little variation of every device type out there must now be individually accommodated in custom code in order for the HFS process to be fully effective.
If a graphics chip is integrated directly into the motherboard and there's no easy access to the device bus then the need for bus encryption (see "Unnecessary CPU Resource Consumption" below) is removed. Because the encryption requirement is so onerous, it's quite possible that this means of providing graphics capabilities will suddenly become more popular after the release of Vista. However, this leads to a problem: It's no longer possible to tell if a graphics chip is situated on a plug-in card or attached to the motherboard, since as far as the system is concerned they're both just devices sitting on the AGP/PCIe bus. The solution to this problem is to make the two deliberately incompatible, so that HFS can detect a chip on a plug-in card vs. one on the motherboard. Again, this does nothing more than increase costs and driver complexity.
Further problems occur with audio drivers. To the system, HDMI audio looks like S/PDIF, a deliberate design decision to make handling of drivers easier. In order to provide the ability to disable output, it's necessary to make HDMI codecs deliberately incompatible with S/PDIF codecs, despite the fact that they were specifically designed to appear identical in order to ease driver support and reduce development costs.
Denial-of-Service via Driver Revocation
Once a weakness is found in a particular driver or device, that driver will have its signature revoked by Microsoft, which means that it will cease to function (details on this are a bit vague here, presumably some minimum functionality like generic 640x480 VGA support will still be available in order for the system to boot). This means that a report of a compromise of a particular driver or device will cause all support for that device worldwide to be turned off until a fix can be found. Again, details are sketchy, but if it's a device problem then presumably the device turns into a paperweight once it's revoked. If it's an older device for which the vendor isn't interested in rewriting their drivers (and in the fast-moving hardware market most devices enter "legacy" status within a year of two of their replacement models becoming available), all devices of that type worldwide become permanently unusable.
An example of this might be nVidia TNT2 video cards, which are still very widely deployed in business environments where they're all that you need to run Word or Outlook or Excel (or, for that matter, pretty much any non-gaming application). The drivers for these cards haven't been updated for quite some time for exactly that reason: You don't need the latest drivers for them because they're not useful with current games any more (if you go to the nVidia site and try and install any recent drivers, the installer will tell you to go back and download much older drivers instead). If a TNT2 device were found to be leaking content, it seems unlikely that nVidia would be interested in reviving discontinued drivers that it hasn't touched for several years, creating instant orphanware of the installed user base.
The threat of driver revocation is the ultimate nuclear option, the crack of the commissars' pistols reminding the faithful of their duty [Note H]. The exact details of the hammer that vendors will be hit with is buried in confidential licensing agreements, but I've heard mention of multi-million dollar fines and embargoes on further shipment of devices alongside the driver revocation mentioned above.
This revocation can have unforeseen carry-on costs. Windows' anti-piracy component, WGA, is tied to system hardware components. Windows allows you to make a small number of system hardware changes after which you need to renew your Windows license (the exact details of what you can and can't get away with changing has been the subject of much debate). If a particular piece of hardware is deactivated (even just temporarily while waiting for an updated driver to work around a content leak) and you swap in a different video card or sound card to avoid the problem, you risk triggering Windows' anti-piracy measures, landing you in even more hot water. If you're forced to swap out a major system component like a motherboard, you've instantly failed WGA validation. Revocation of any kind of motherboard-integrated device (practically every motherboard has some form of onboard audio, and all of the cheaper ones have integrated video) would appear to have a serious negative interaction with Windows' anti-piracy measures.
The details of what will happen if a motherboard contains unused onboard audio capabilities and an additional sound card alongside it, and the motherboard drivers are revoked, is unknown. Windows can't tell that there's nothing connected to the onboard audio because the user prefers to use their M-Audio Revolution 7.1 Surround Sound card instead, so it'll probably have to revoke the motherboard drivers even though they're not used for anything. Since virtually all motherboards contain onboard audio, this could prove quite problematic.
An entirely different DoS problem that applies more to HDMI-enabled devices in general has already surfaced in the form of, uhh, "DVI amplifiers", which take as input an HDMI signal and output a DVI signal, amplifying it in the process. Oh, and as a side-effect they forget to re-apply the HDCP protection to the output. These devices are relatively simple to design and build using off- the-shelf HDMI chips. Beyond the commercially-available models, individual hardware hackers have built their own protection-strippers using chip samples obtained from chip vendors. If you have the right credentials you can even get hardware evaluation boards designed for testing and development that do this sort of thing.
Now assume that the "DVI amplifier" manufacturer buys a truckload of HDMI chips (they'll want to get as many as they can in one go because they probably won't be able to go back and buy more when the chip vendor discovers what they're being used for). Since this is a rogue device, it can be revoked... along with hundreds of thousands or even millions of other consumer devices that use the same chip. Engadget have a good overview of this scenario at http://www.engadget.com/2005/07/21/the-clicker-hdcps-shiny-red-button/.
Decreased System Reliability
"Drivers must be extra-robust. Requires additional driver development to isolate and protect sensitive code paths" -- ATI.
Vista's content protection requires that devices (hardware and software drivers) set so-called "tilt bits" if they detect anything unusual. For example if there are unusual voltage fluctuations, maybe some jitter on bus signals, a slightly funny return code from a function call, a device register that doesn't contain quite the value that was expected, or anything similar, a tilt bit gets set. Such occurrences aren't too uncommon in a typical computer. For example starting up or plugging in a bus-powered device may cause a small glitch in power supply voltages, or drivers may not quite manage device state as precisely as they think. Previously this was no problem - the system was designed with a bit of resilience, and things will function as normal. In other words small variances in performance are a normal part of system functioning. Furthermore, the degree of variance can differ widely across systems, with some handling large changes in system parameters and others only small ones. One very obvious way to observe this is what happens when a bunch of PCs get hit by a momentary power outage. Effects will vary from powering down, to various types of crash, to nothing at all, all triggered by exactly the same external event.
With the introduction of tilt bits, all of this designed-in resilience is gone. Every little (normally unnoticeable) glitch is suddenly surfaced because it could be a sign of a hack attack. The effect that this will have on system reliability should require no further explanation.
Content-protection "features" like tilt bits also have worrying denial-of- service (DoS) implications. It's probably a good thing that modern malware is created by programmers with the commercial interests of the phishing and spam industries in mind rather than just creating as much havoc as possible. With the number of easily-accessible grenade pins that Vista's content protection provides, any piece of malware that decides to pull a few of them will cause considerable damage. The homeland security implications of this seem quite serious, since a tiny, easily-hidden piece of malware would be enough to render a machine unusable, while the very nature of Vista's content protection would make it almost impossible to determine why the denial-of-service is occurring. Furthermore, the malware authors, who are taking advantage of "content-protection" features, would be protected by the DMCA against any attempts to reverse-engineer or disable the content-protection "features" that they're abusing.
Even without deliberate abuse by malware, the homeland security implications of an external agent being empowered to turn off your IT infrastructure in response to a content leak discovered in some chipset that you coincidentally happen to be using is a serious concern for potential Vista users. Non-US governments are already nervous enough about using a US-supplied operating system without having this remote DoS capability built into the operating system. And like the medical-image-degradation issue, you won't find out about this until it's too late, turning Vista PCs into ticking time bombs if the revocation functionality is ever employed.
Increased Hardware Costs
"Cannot go to market until it works to specification... potentially more respins of hardware" -- ATI.
"This increases motherboard design costs, increases lead times, and reduces OEM configuration flexibility. This cost is passed on to purchasers of multimedia PCs and may delay availability of high-performance platforms" -- ATI.
Vista includes various requirements for "robustness" in which the content industry, through "hardware robustness rules", dictates design requirements to hardware manufacturers. For example, only certain layouts of a board are allowed in order to make it harder for outsiders to access parts of the board. Possibly for the first time ever, computer design is being dictated not by electronic design rules, physical layout requirements, and thermal issues, but by the wishes of the content industry. Apart from the massive headache that this poses to device manufacturers, it also imposes additional increased costs beyond the ones incurred simply by having to lay out board designs in a suboptimal manner. Video card manufacturers typically produce a one-size- fits-all design (often a minimally-altered copy of the chipset vendor's reference design), and then populate different classes and price levels of cards in different ways. For example a low-end card will have low-cost, minimal or absent TV-out encoders, DVI circuitry, RAMDACs, and various other add-ons used to differentiate budget from premium video cards. You can see this on the cheaper cards by observing the unpopulated bond pads on circuit boards, and gamers and the like will be familiar with cut-a-trace/resolder-a- resistor sidegrades of video cards. Vista's content-protection requirements eliminate this one-size-fits-all design, banning the use of separate TV-out encoders, DVI circuitry, RAMDACs, and other discretionary add-ons. Everything has to be custom-designed and laid out so that there are no unnecessary accessible signal links on the board. This means that a low-cost card isn't just a high-cost card with components omitted, and conversely a high-cost card isn't just a low-cost card with additional discretionary components added, each one has to be a completely custom design created to ensure that no signal on the board is accessible.
This extends beyond simple board design all the way down to chip design. Instead of adding an external DVI chip, it now has to be integrated into the graphics chip, along with any other functionality normally supplied by an external chip. So instead of varying video card cost based on optional components, the chipset vendor now has to integrate everything into a one- size-fits-all premium-featured graphics chip, even if all the user wants is a budget card for their kid's PC.
Increased Cost due to Requirement to License Unnecessary Third-party IP
"We've taken on more legal costs in copyright protection in the last six to eight months than we have in any previous engagement. Each legal contract sets a new precedent, and each new one builds on the previous one" -- ATI.
Protecting all of this precious premium content requires a lot of additional technology. Unfortunately much of this is owned by third parties and requires additional licensing. For example HDCP for HDMI is owned by Intel, so in order to send a signal over HDMI you have to pay royalties to Intel, even though you could do exactly the same thing for free over DVI. Similarly, since even AES-128 on a modern CPU isn't fast enough to encrypt high-bandwidth content, companies are required to license the Intel-owned Cascaded Cipher, an AES-128-based transform that's designed to offer a generally similar level of security but with less processing overhead.
The need to obtain unnecessary technology licenses extends beyond basic hardware IP. In order to demonstrate their commitment to the cause, Microsoft have recommended as part of their "robustness rules" that vendors license third-party code obfuscation tools to provide virus-like stealth capabilities for their device drivers in order to make it difficult to interfere with their operations or reverse-engineer them. Vendors like Cloakware and Arxan have actually added "robustness solutions" web pages to their sites in anticipation of this lucrative market. This must be a nightmare for device vendors, for whom it's already enough of a task getting fully functional drivers deployed without having to deal with adding stealth-virus-like technology on top of the basic driver functionality.
Unnecessary CPU Resource Consumption
"Since [encryption] uses CPU cycles, an OEM may have to bump the speed grade on the CPU to maintain equivalent multimedia performance. This cost is passed on to purchasers of multimedia PCs" -- ATI.
In order to prevent tampering with in-system communications, all communication flows have to be encrypted and/or authenticated. For example content sent to video devices has to be encrypted with AES-128. This requirement for cryptography extends beyond basic content encryption to encompass not just data flowing over various buses but also command and control data flowing between software components. For example communications between user-mode and kernel-mode components are authenticated with OMAC message authentication-code tags, at considerable cost to both ends of the connection.
In order to prevent active attacks, device drivers are required to poll the underlying hardware every 30ms to ensure that everything appears kosher. This means that even with nothing else happening in the system, a mass of assorted drivers has to wake up thirty times a second just to ensure that... nothing continues to happen. In addition to this polling, further device-specific polling is also done, for example Vista polls video devices on each video frame displayed in order to check that all of the grenade pins (tilt bits) are still as they should be. We already have multiple reports from Vista reviewers of playback problems with video and audio content, with video frames dropped and audio stuttering even on high-end systems. Time will tell whether this problem is due to immature drivers or has been caused by the overhead imposed by Vista's content protection mechanisms interfering with playback.
On-board graphics create an additional problem in that blocks of precious content will end up stored in system memory, from where they could be paged to disk. In order to avoid this, Vista tags such pages with a special protection bit indicating that they need to be encrypted before being paged out and decrypted again after being paged in. Vista doesn't provide any other pagefile encryption, and will quite happily page banking PINs, credit card details, private, personal data, and other sensitive information, in plaintext. The content-protection requirements make it fairly clear that in Microsoft's eyes a frame of premium content is worth more than (say) a user's medical records or their banking PIN [Note I].
In addition to the CPU costs, the desire to render data inaccessible at any level means that video decompression can't be done in the CPU any more, since there isn't sufficient CPU power available to both decompress the video and encrypt the resulting uncompressed data stream to the video card. As a result, much of the decompression has to be integrated into the graphics chip. At a minimum this includes IDCT, MPEG motion compensation, and the Windows Media VC-1 codec (which is also DCT-based, so support via an IDCT core is fairly easy). As a corollary to the "Increased Hardware Costs" problem above, this means that you can't ship a low-end graphics chip without video codec support any more.
The inability to perform decoding in software also means that any premium- content compression scheme not supported by the graphics hardware can't be implemented. If things like the Ogg video codec ever eventuate and get used for premium content, they had better be done using something like Windows Media VC-1 or they'll be a non-starter under Vista or Vista-approved hardware. This is particularly troubling for the high-quality digital cinema (D-Cinema) specification, which uses Motion JPEG2000 (MJ2K) because standard MPEG and equivalents don't provide sufficient image quality. Since JPEG2000 uses wavelet-based compression rather than MPEG's DCT-based compression, and wavelet-based compression isn't on the hardware codec list, it's not possible to play back D-Cinema premium content (the moribund Ogg Tarkin codec also used wavelet-based compression). Because *all* D-Cinema content will (presumably) be premium content, the result is no playback at all until the hardware support appears in PCs at some indeterminate point in the future. Compare this to the situation with MPEG video, where early software codecs like the XingMPEG en/decoder practically created the market for PC video. Today, thanks to Vista's content protection, the opening up of new markets in this manner would be impossible.
The high-end graphics and audio market are dominated entirely by gamers, who will do anything to gain the tiniest bit of extra performance, like buying Bigfoot Networks' $250 "Killer NIC" ethernet card in the hope that it'll help reduce their network latency by a few milliseconds. These are people buying $500-$1000 graphics and sound cards for which one single sale brings the device vendors more than the few cents they get from the video/audio portion of an entire roomful of integrated-graphics-and-sound PCs. I wonder how this market segment will react to knowing that their top-of-the-line hardware is being hamstrung by all of the content-protection "features" that Vista hogties it with?
Unnecessary Device Resource Consumption
"Compliance rules require [content] to be encrypted. This requires additional encryption/decryption logic thus adding to VPU costs. This cost is passed on to all consumers" -- ATI.
As part of the bus-protection scheme, devices are required to implement AES-128 encryption in order to receive content from Vista. This has to be done via a hardware decryption engine on the graphics chip, which would typically be implemented by throwing away a GPU rendering pipeline or two to make room for the AES engine.
Establishing the AES key with the device hardware requires further cryptographic overhead, in this case a 2048-bit Diffie-Hellman key exchange. In programmable devices this can be done (with considerable effort) in the device (for example in programmable shader hardware), or more simply by throwing out a few more rendering pipelines and implementing a public-key- cryptography engine in the freed-up space.
Needless to say, the need to develop, test, and integrate encryption engines into audio/video devices will only add to their cost, as covered in "Increased Hardware Costs" above, and the fact that they're losing precious performance in order to accommodate Vista's content protection will make gamers less than happy.
"No amount of coordination will be successful unless it's designed with the needs of the customer in mind. Microsoft believes that a good user experience is a requirement for adoption" -- Microsoft.
"The PC industry is committed to providing content protection on the PC, but nothing comes for free. These costs are passed on to the consumer" -- ATI.
At the end of all this, the question remains: Why is Microsoft going to this much trouble? Ask most people what they picture when you use the term "premium-content media player" and they'll respond with "A PVR" or "A DVD player" and not "A Windows PC". So why go to this much effort to try and turn the PC into something that it's not?
In July 2006, Cory Doctorow published an analysis of the anti-competitive nature of Apple's iTunes copy-restriction system ("Apple's Copy Protection Isn't Just Bad For Consumers, It's Bad For Business", Cory Doctorow, Information Week, 31 July 2006). The only reason I can imagine why Microsoft would put its programmers, device vendors, third-party developers, and ultimately its customers, through this much pain is because once this copy protection is entrenched, Microsoft will completely own the distribution channel. In the same way that Apple has managed to acquire a monopolistic lock-in on their music distribution channel (an example being the Motorola ROKR fiasco, which was so crippled by Apple-imposed restrictions that it was dead the moment it appeared), so Microsoft will totally control the premium- content distribution channel. Not only will they be able to lock out any competitors, but because they will then represent the only available distribution channel they'll be able to dictate terms back to the content providers whose needs they are nominally serving in the same way that Apple has already dictated terms back to the music industry: Play by Apple's rules, or we won't carry your content. The result will be a technologically enforced monopoly that makes their current de-facto Windows monopoly seem like a velvet glove in comparison.
Overall, Vista's content-protection functionality seems like an astonishingly short-sighted piece of engineering, concentrating entirely on content protection with no consideration given to the enormous repercussions of the measures employed. It's something like the PC equivalent of the (hastily dropped) proposal mooted in Europe to put RFID tags into high-value banknotes as an anti-counterfeiting measure, completely ignoring the fact that the major users of this technology would end up being criminals who would use it to remotely identify the most lucrative robbery targets.
The worst thing about all of this is that there's no escape. Hardware manufacturers will have to drink the kool-aid (and the reference to mass suicide here is deliberate [Note J]) in order to work with Vista: "There is no requirement to sign the [content-protection] license; but without a certificate, no premium content will be passed to the driver". Of course as a device manufacturer you can choose to opt out, if you don't mind your device only ever being able to display low-quality, fuzzy, blurry video and audio when premium content is present, while your competitors don't have this (artificially-created) problem.
As a user, there is simply no escape. Whether you use Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 95, Linux, FreeBSD, OS X, Solaris (on x86), or almost any other OS, Windows content protection will make your hardware more expensive, less reliable, more difficult to program for, more difficult to support, more vulnerable to hostile code, and with more compatibility problems. Because Windows dominates the market and device vendors are unlikely to design and manufacture two different versions of their products, non-Windows users will be paying for Windows Vista content-protection measures in products even if they never run Windows on them.
Here's an offer to Microsoft: If we, the consumers, promise to never, ever, ever buy a single HD-DVD or Blu-Ray disc containing any precious premium content [Note K], will you in exchange withhold this poison from the computer industry? Please?
This document was put together with input from various sources, including a number that requested that I keep their contributions anonymous (in some cases I've simplified or rewritten some details to ensure that the original, potentially traceable wording of non-public requirements docs isn't used). Because it wasn't always possible to go back to the sources and verify exact details, it's possible that there may be some inaccuracies present, which I'm sure I'll hear about fairly quickly. No doubt Microsoft (who won't want a view of Vista as being broken by design to take root) will also provide their spin on the details.
In addition to the material present here, I'd be interested in getting further input both from people at Microsoft involved in implementing the content protection measures and from device vendors who are required to implement the hardware and driver software measures. I know from the Microsoft sources that contributed that many of them care deeply about providing the best possible audio/video user experience for Vista users and are quite distressed about having to spend time implementing large amounts of anti-functionality when it's already hard enough to get things running smoothly without the intentional crippling. I'm always open to further input, and will keep all contributions confidential unless you give me permission to repeat something. If you're concerned about traceability, grab a disposable account at Hotmail, Gmail, or some similar provider and contact me through that. If you want to encrypt things, my PGP key is linked from my home page, http://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~pgut001.
(In case the above hints aren't obvious enough, if you work for nVidia, ATI, VIA, SiS, Intel, ..., I'd *really* like to get your comments on how all of this is affecting you).
Because this writeup started out as a private discussion in email, a number of the sources used were non-public. The best public sources that I know of are:
"Output Content Protection and Windows Vista",
http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/device/stream/output_protect.mspx, from WHDC.
"Windows Longhorn Output Content Protection",
"How to Implement Windows Vista Content Output Protection",
"Protected Media Path and Driver Interoperability Requirements",
(Note that the cryptography requirements have changed since some of the information above was published. SHA-1 has been deprecated in favour of SHA-256 and SHA-512, and public keys seem to be uniformly set at 2048 bits in place of the mixture of 1024 bits and 2048 bits mentioned in the presentations).
An excellent analysis from one of the hardware vendors involved in this comes from ATI, in the form of "Digital Media Content Protection", http://download.microsoft.com/download/9/8/f/98f3fe47-dfc3-4e74-92a3-088782200fe7/TWEN05002_WinHEC05.ppt, from WinHEC. This points out (in the form of PowerPoint bullet-points) the manifold problems associated with Vista's content-protection measures, with repeated mention of increased development costs, degraded performance and the phrase "increased costs passed on to consumers" pervading the entire presentation like a mantra.
In addition there have been quite a few writeups on this (although not going into quite as much detail as this document) in magazines both online and in print, one example being PC World's feature article "Will your PC run Windows Vista?", http://www.pcw.co.uk/articles/print/2154785, which covers this in the appropriately-titled section "Multimedia in chains". Audience reactions to these proposals at WinHEC are covered in "Longhorn: tough trail to PC digital media" published in EE Times (http://www.eetimes.com/issue/fp/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=162100180), unfortunately you need to be a subscriber to read this but you may be able to find accessible cached copies using your favourite search engine.
This document seems to produce various comments that come up repeatedly. To respond to the more frequent ones, I've added this mini-FAQ.
1. This is just Microsoft-bashing.
It's bad-technology bashing. If this had been done by Linus Torvalds, Steve Jobs, Alan Cox, or Theo de Raadt, I'd have said the same thing about it. As far as I'm concerned computers are tools to get a job done and not a platform for religious wars, and if something's bad I'll say so regardless of who's doing it. Just for the record I run various versions of Windows on ... [counting] ... seven of my machines (the rest are a mixture of Linux, FreeBSD, and occasionally Solaris), which would make me a rather unlikely Microsoft detractor.
2. This is a very biased writeup.
Perhaps, but then I challenge anyone to read the specifications given in the "Sources" section above and write a positive analysis of Vista's content protection. Someone has to point out these problems, and it happened to be me in this case, but I think anyone with technical skills who read the relevant documents would come to a similar conclusion.
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Note A: This document uses "cost" in the sense of "penalty", "damage", "harm", "injury" and "loss" rather than the more financial "expense", "outlay", and "price". A full financial analysis would require a top-to-bottom internal audit of the design, development, production, distribution, support, and legal costs for each vendor involved, something for which even the vendors themselves would have difficulty producing a precise figure.
Note B: I'll make a prediction at this point that, given that it's trying to do the impossible, the Vista content protection will take less than a day to bypass if the bypass mechanism is something like a driver bug or a simple security hole that applies only to one piece of code (and can therefore be quickly patched), and less than a week to comprehensively bypass in a driver/hardware-independent manner. This doesn't mean it'll be broken the day or week that it appears, but simply that once a sufficiently skilled attacker is motivated to bypass the protection, it'll take them less than a day or a week to do so.
Note C: In order for content to be displayed to users, it has to be copied numerous times. For example if you're reading this document on the web then it's been copied from the web server's disk drive to server memory, copied to the server's network buffers, copied across the Internet, copied to your PC's network buffers, copied into main memory, copied to your browser's disk cache, copied to the browser's rendering engine, copied to the render/screen cache, and finally copied to your screen. If you've printed it out to read, several further rounds of copying have occurred. Windows Vista's content protection (and DRM in general) assume that all of this copying can occur without any copying actually occurring, since the whole intent of DRM is to prevent copying. If you're not versed in DRM doublethink this concept gets quite tricky to explain, but in terms of quantum mechanics the content enters a superposition of simultaneously copied and uncopied states until a user collapses its wave function by observing the content (in physics this is called quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox). Depending on whether you follow the Copenhagen or many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, things then either get wierd or very wierd. So in order for Windows Vista's content protection to work, it has to be able to violate the laws of physics and create numerous copies that are simultaneously not copies.
Note D: There is SCMS, but that's so ineffective as to be more or less worthless.
Note E: As an example of an experience that's likely to become commonplace once more "premium content" is rolled out, Roger Strong reports from Canada that "I've just had my first experience with HD content being blocked. I purchased an HP Media Center PC with a built-in HD DVD player, together with a 24" 'high definition' 1920 x 1200 HP flat panel display (HP LP2465). They even included an HD movie, 'The Bourne Supremacy'. Sure enough, the movie won't play because while the video card supports HDCP content protection, the monitor doesn't. (It plays if I connect an old 14" VGA CRT using a DVI-to-VGA connector)".
Note F: The question of how content producers other than the major studios who can afford expensive custom equipment are supposed to create and manipulate high-definition content has been raised by a number of readers. For example one contributor who works with people in the content industry comments that "I have seen [smaller content producers] going from just recording weddings and the like, to ones that have gone all the way to make a full featured movie. They have gone through problems like where to edit HD material, which cameras to use, which format, etc. Their decisions have been based on availability of equipment to make their projects, not really costs". It has been suggested that the large content producers are quite happy with this situation, since it prevents any competition from more innovative, creative, and agile newcomers.
Note G: Philip Dorrell has a neat cartoon that illustrates this problem at http://www.1729.com/blog/LookingForAWinWin.html.
Note H: I see some impressive class-action suits to follow if this revocation mechanism is ever applied. Perhaps Microsoft or the content providers will buy everyone who owns a device that inadvertently leaks content and is then disabled by the revocation process replacement hardware for their system.
Some contributors have commented that they can't see the revocation system ever being used because the consumer backlash would be too enormous, but then the legal backlash from not going ahead could be equally extreme. For anyone who's read "Guns of August", the situation seems a bit like pre-WWI Europe with people sitting on step 1 of enormously complex battle plans that can't be backed out of once triggered, no matter how obvious it is that going ahead with them is a bad idea. Driver revocation is a lose/lose situation for Microsoft, they're in for some serious pain whether they do or they don't. Their lawyers must have been asleep when they let themselves get painted into this particular corner - the first time a revocation takes out a hospital, foreign government department, air traffic control system, or whatever, they've guaranteed themselves personal involvement in court proceedings for the rest of their natural lives.
Note I: The Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Vista do feature this type of encryption, but the features of these high-end versions will never get into the hands of typical users. In addition it's an all-or-nothing encryption where (to quote Microsoft) "all user and system files are encrypted" when what really counts is swap-file encryption, since that's what contains copies of sensitive in-memory data. The OpenBSD approach of generating a random swap- file encryption key at boot time and encrypting any memory data that gets paged to disk is the correct way to handle this.
Note J: The "kool-aid" reference may be slightly unfamiliar to non-US readers, it's a reference to the 1978 Jonestown mass-suicide in which Jim Jones' followers drank Flavor Aid laced with poison in order to demonstrate their dedication to the cause. In popular usage the term "kool-aid" is substituted for Flavor Aid because it has more brand recognition. There's also an earlier, less well-known link to fruit juice laced with LSD, I'll avoid the obvious comment about that and some of the thinking behind Vista's content protection.
Note K: If I do ever want to play back premium content, I'll wait a few years and then buy a $50 Chinese-made set-top player to do it, not a $1000 Windows PC. It's somewhat bizarre that I have to go to Communist China in order to find vendors who actually understand the consumer's needs.
A reductio ad absurdum solution to the "premium-content problem", proposed by a Slashdot reader, is to add support to Windows Vista for a black-box hardware component that accepts as input encrypted compressed premium content and produces as output encrypted (or otherwise protected) decoded premium content. In other words, move the entire mass of hardware, driver, and software protection into a dedicated black box that's only used in media PCs where it's (arguably) required.
Now compare this add-on black box to the canonical Chinese-made $50 media player. Why would anyone buy the black box (which will almost certainly cost more than $50) when they can buy a complete dedicated media player that does the same thing and more?