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Princeton Team Cracks SDMI

Oct 23, 2000, 22:09 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian McWilliams)

By Brian McWilliams, InternetNews.com

A team led by Princeton University's Secure Internet Programming group says it has defeated the copyright protection scheme developed by the Secure Digital Music Initiative.

SDMI is the music industry forum trying to build a system for protecting digital music against being illegal copying. The outfit launched the Hack SDMI challenge last month to invite the public to attack its digital watermark technology and possibly win a $10,000 prize.

Computer scientists and electrical engineers at Princeton, along with outside teams led by graduates of Princeton's computer science program, claim that they were able to remove the watermarks placed in music files by SDMI, without significantly degrading the audio quality.

Ed Felten, one of the leaders of the Princeton team, said Monday that watermarks can help to mark ownership and track where files go on the Web. But as a technology for preventing duplication, Felten said watermarks falls short.

"SDMI's approach requires that every player have watermark detection software or hardware in it, and that makes the pirate's job much easier. Watermarking technology can work in some applications, but not in this kind of public scheme," said Felten.

SDMI has received over 400 entrants to its SDMI challenge and is currently evaluating them. Last week the organization refuted claims by an anonymous group that said it had defeated all six of the challenges posed by SDMI.

Felten said his group hasn't received official confirmation from SDMI on its successful crack of the watermark. But the researchers did get an automated confirmation from an SDMI e-mail system.

Previously, SIP has publicized a serious security flaw in Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine, and an attack called Web Spoofing. Next month, the Princeton group plans to make publicly available on the Web its full research on SDMI's watermarks. In doing so, it could be breaking a non-disclosure agreement all participants consented to in entering the contest. But Felten said he's not worried about getting into legal trouble with SDMI.

"We've looked at the terms and conditions very carefully in deciding what we were going to do," he said.

Several groups previously announced a boycott of the SDMI challenge, saying that they didn't want to be tools in the music industry's anti-piracy efforts.

But in a list of frequently asked questions at its site, the Princeton team said, "We believe that public discussion of the drawbacks of SDMI's technologies will be beneficial in the long run."

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