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Is a weaker watermark better?

By grandgrand37 in Technology
Sun Aug 05, 2001 at 11:15:34 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

The Adobe /Dmitry battle just covers up the fact that no one can make a watermark that works. Peter Wayner, the guy who wrote Agents Unleashed and Free for All is now selling articles with very weak watermarks. Anyone can destroy them with an editor. This keeps away the h4XoRs looking for a buzz and the honest folk. He just writes off the rest of them. This seems like a saner approach than sending the DMCA cops after people.

The problem is that too much complexity drives away customers. They can't get the software to work or maybe it conflicts with something else. It's a pain in the arse to get all of the compatability working. Why bother trying if some Russian is just going to crack it?

This system just inserts your name and some long serial number into the document at the bottom of each page. If you want to destroy it, all you need is an editor. He says that this will keep out the h4x0rs looking for a challenge and the honest folk. If people want to steal, well that's their business. He claims they won't be able to sleep at night, something I'm not so sure about.

Maybe this is the right engineering solution to the problem. If we can't solve it, just make it simple enough to keep the right number of people honest. That's what one of the engineers at DirecTV says in the article. He says something like, "We could build an NSA grade device but that would cost a million dollars per customer." They decided to go for a system that cost $49 new and they probably got more takers than the system at $1 million.


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The Thing I Pirated Was
o Porn 23%
o Video Games 23%
o DMCA Cracking Information 11%
o Adobe Software 26%
o Nothing 14%

Votes: 88
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Adobe
o Dmitry
o selling articles
o Also by grandgrand37

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Is a weaker watermark better? | 23 comments (10 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
Old splashscreen watermark (4.57 / 14) (#1)
by Suanrw on Fri Aug 03, 2001 at 02:59:18 PM EST

I recall a product that stamped the executable with my VISA number. The slash screen displayed the name and number I used to purchase the product. I suppose it wouldn't have been too difficult to crack that program, but I was definitely not going to share my unmodified copy.

In the early days at MIT (4.73 / 15) (#7)
by anansi on Fri Aug 03, 2001 at 08:49:40 PM EST

...computer staff got so tired of students trying to crash the system that they put "crash the system" on the main manu as an option. While the occasional newbie still pushed that button, overall system crashes were dramatically reduced. And the crackers who had been doing it, were forced to find something cooler to do.

Don't call it Fascism. Use Musollini's term: "Corporatism"

Digital Watermarks (2.33 / 9) (#8)
by jd on Fri Aug 03, 2001 at 09:38:16 PM EST

There is an alternative to using "conventional" copy-protection schemes. Don't have the data there to copy.

At first, this might sound a little strange. After all, you need to be able to -read- the data, to be sure that the copy is valid.

Actually, the answer to that is "maybe". It's well-established that you can "unformat" a disk, suggesting that standard disk drives can be made to read at layers other than the top.

By splitting the bits between the top and secondary layers, conventional bit-copiers are going to miss most of the data completely. Only the specifically-designed reader would be able to read the image on the disk.

The disk image would still be perfectly copiable. If the loader can read it, then so can a sufficiently well-written bit-copier. And =THAT= is the crux of the matter...

Let P = A(I), where P = the program or data, A = the transform, and I the input stream.

Then, if A(I) = B(J), where B = a transform, and J is a data stream, where the stream, once transformed, is identical to the first stream, transformed the initial way.

This allows you to have a reader and a bit-stream which looks identical, to the computer. It does, however, mean you now have to have a further transform, C, where C(A(I)) = J.

Now, once you have C, B and J, you have a way to duplicate I, with no problems. Because B is not necessarily the same as A, you are not compelled to store the data in the same way, although if you are doing a "perfect" mirror, that's often the easy way.

How does all this relate to using multiple layers on the disk? In this way. ALL copy-protection systems work by placing data outside the scope of current readers. Readers will always be extended, so it's only a game of playing for time. How much time can this buy?

The SOLE reason for using a copy-protection scheme is if the total profit from the time bought exceeds the total cost of developing the scheme.

By using multiple layers, and folding them together, you should be able to make it harder for skript-kiddies to copy the data. It won't stop anyone with an ounce of skill, but it'll certainly keep the kiddies, which make up 99.999% of the people who really DO cost companies money, out of the arena for a long time.

Riiight. (4.42 / 7) (#10)
by fluffy grue on Sat Aug 04, 2001 at 01:17:33 AM EST

You know how "unformatting" works, right? It's based on the principle that when you delete a file (or format a disk), you don't touch the data, you just remove the directory entry (or toplevel directory). Unformatting just means rebuilding it by making a bunch of guesses based on the files sitting around.

Yes, there are techniques to unformat disks where the data has been erased by trivial mechanisms (i.e. overwriting it with a known pattern, such as all 0s or a checkerboard or a pseudorandom number generator), but those require quite sensitive hardware to do (not just commodity floppy drives), and even slight magnetic fields will corrupt the "hidden" data.

For what it's worth, on a lot of older computer games back before harddrives got affordable, you could often run an undelete utility to get the source code to the game, since before publishing, instead of just copying the executables over to the master disk, they did a diskcopy and then deleted the files from the copy, using the modified copy as the master disk. Apparently this was particularly common on early Amiga games, as Amigas traditionally had only one floppy drive and no harddrive (so filewise copying was a major pain in the ass).
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

The Other Extreme (3.66 / 6) (#12)
by maarken on Sat Aug 04, 2001 at 01:16:07 PM EST

ALL copy-protection systems work by placing data outside the scope of current readers.

That's exactly what the problem is if you're not very careful. I bought Black & White, took it home, and then proceeded to spend 3 hours trying various things to get my CD drive to read it it enough to satisfy the copy protection! I finally ended up downloading a cracked EXE (about 10 minutes) just to play it! This isn't even a a old drive, about a year old.

And you know what? There are still warezed ISOs for it around. Net result? I'm pissed off at copy protection that doesn't even seem to work. Did we really gain anything here?

Flip the symbols in my email.
[ Parent ]
Diablo II (3.00 / 2) (#15)
by ucblockhead on Sun Aug 05, 2001 at 08:41:30 PM EST

I had the same damn problem with Diablo II. It took them six months to get a damn patch out to work with my CDROM. The illegal crack, however, was out the day I got it.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Missing the point? (4.00 / 2) (#14)
by Scott Robinson on Sun Aug 05, 2001 at 05:42:04 PM EST

I'm a CS student and your post caused my eyes to glaze over. I'll leave the technical "details" to the other responses.

Not because I couldn't understand it, though, but suggesting anything of such complexity for mainstream use shows you missed something...

One of the points is that the system needs to be simple and not obstrusive for the end-user. Keys keep the honest man honest - one can't easily break in to your home and you don't have to put out much effort.


[ Parent ]
quality of the reader (3.00 / 2) (#17)
by PresJPolk on Mon Aug 06, 2001 at 01:55:39 AM EST

If the user's reader is of good enough quality to access the data, then it's of good enough quality to copy the data.

Remember Digital Video Express? People won't buy a reader that you control. So you have to design your schemes assuming unfriendly hardware.

If it were as easy as you say, then warez would have been dead 10 years ago.

[ Parent ]
"Pirate" is not a subset of "Moron& (4.00 / 2) (#22)
by dasunt on Wed Aug 08, 2001 at 05:35:21 PM EST

Just because they are pirates, and they love the warez scene doesn't make them all morons. The average warez user is probably more computer literate then the average office worker, just because of the trouble he or she has to go through to find and install cracked software. Some of the pirates involved in actively cracking software are probably very bright, with way more computer knowledge then you or me, remember, these guys successfully combat the copywrite protection placed on programs by successful multi-billion dollar corperations with highly paid programmers. I'm sure Blizzard put more then a little thought in their Diablo II copywrite protection, and they modified it throughout the different versions, but there are no-cd patches for all the versions availabe if you know where to look. In the same light, there are "windowed" patches for Everquest, even though Sony's frequent patches have a tendency to break them, and Sony has a policy that using such a patch is a bannable offense. I remember reading on one board about a windowed-patch release, someone in the forum questioning if it was just a name/password collection scheme, and another person responding that the program didn't invoke any abnormal network connections or other things of that sort, so it was probably safe, if it didn't have a delayed transmittion. These people are just a *tad* more clueful then your average pc user.

Some of the copywrite protection schemes out there involves a lot of magic. But there is almost always a patch or cracked version out there, and if there isn't, is usually doesn't mean that the copywrite protection was good, it means that either you didn't look hard enough or that no pirates care.

Don't take this the wrong way, I don't admire those who pirate software (even if I do hold some admiration for those who remove stupid copywrite protection schemes that have hindered paying users) its just that if you are going to assume all pirates are morons and act accordingly, you are going to be unpleasantly surprized.

[ Parent ]

h4x0rs? (2.66 / 3) (#13)
by yonderboy on Sat Aug 04, 2001 at 03:02:40 PM EST

Someone should metion that the SMDI watermarking scheme was broken by acadaemics.

Submitting software systems, be them watermarking or encryption or what-have-you, for peer-review is something that developers in the academic an private sectors both do. Of course, this means the h4x0rs are actually paid by the company to h4x0r the system.

My opinion is that Peter Wayner has his head firmly planted in his posterior.

Is a weaker watermark better? | 23 comments (10 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
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