An Inside Look At The Technical Revolution

The obligatory link: A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection

The linked article and the quotes at the bottom of the post are the work of Mr. Peter Gutmann.

Warning, this is extremely geeky. If the link title did not immediately draw your attention, I wouldn't suggest going back to it now. For those who are still left, though, the article is almost a play-by-play of Vista, and the current evolution of Operating Systems and content protection. There are enough amusing anecdotes and quotes to keep it interesting... if you're into technology.

For those who want the boiled down version, here you go: Microsoft went so incredibly overboard on the content protection for Windows Vista that many of the systems work very poorly, if they even work at all. Take the idea of buying a brand new model of car the day it comes out, multiply by 20 or so, and that's the amount of headache Vista is causing at the moment.

To put it in the words of the article writer, "Just to make this point clear, the level of security that Vista is trying to achieve to protect video and audio is more extreme than anything the US government has ever considered necessary for protecting its most sensitive classified data."

Finally, a few selected quotes, both for humor and informative value:

"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."

"If it's possible to convince Vista that what it's communicating is premium content, the video (and/or audio) surveillance content will become unavailable, since it's unlikely that a surveillance center will be using DRM-enabled recording devices or monitors. I can just see this as a plot element in Ocean's Fifteen or Mission Impossible Six, “It's OK, their surveillance system is running Vista, we can shut it down with spoofed premium content”."

"I can just imagine the corporate sick day that must have taken place at ATI, nVidia, Intel, VIA, and SiS when it came time to put someone's name to this gem, which gives Hollywood veto rights over your production lines and sales and distribution channels."

"From a chess-playing perspective it appears that the content owners' threat modelling never went any further than “ Hey, I can move my rook over there!”. There doesn't seem to have been any consideration of what could happen during any subsequent moves, or maybe no-one wanted to think about it. "

"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 L]) in order to work with Vista"

Finally, in a grand display of scientific geekery merging with technological geekery to form a giant mecha of omni-geekery, we have this gem, the explanation of Note C: "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 weird or very weird. 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.
(Someone has pointed out that Microsoft is trying to implement a quantum encryption channel in software that attempts to make premium content non- observable, detecting problem states and discontinuing transmission if any are observed)."

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