on Aug 8, 2008
EDIT: Some people have pointed out this is a lot more than it seemed in the article I linked. “Trusted computing” is more than just a unique ID on a chip – it’s a system that operates on both the hardware and software level. Read the comments below for the insidious details.
My original post:
Atari founder Nolan Bushnell says a new chip puts computer piracy on the verge of being eradicated. Now, I’m about to make fun of this guy, but seriously: If I could get a job that paid millions of dollars for saying outrageous things borne of lazy ignorance? Man, where do I sign up?
It is sort of alarming to see that some people – highly paid people – simply fail to grasp the basic mechanics of piracy, even after all these years. Particularly when it’s, you know, their job.
If I’m reading this right, this system isn’t even anything that new. Right now the games that require online activation build a unique ID based on what hardware is connected to the machine. This system would replace that system with a new one that is unique to the motherboard / CPU. That’s sort of nice, I guess. It means you’ll be able to install a new graphics card without needing to re-activate the game. But it’s still a check that can be disabled by any half-decent hacker.
If I may be allowed to commit the self-indulgent crime of quoting myself:
“How he keeps getting out is almost as mysterious as why he keeps coming back.“
In a lot of ways these DRM schemes are a bamboo hut with a vault door on the front. The keep using a bigger and bigger lock and a more complex system of authentication, but it still has to run on a machine where you can edit the executable, and all the hacker has to do is go in and disable the part that says, “Do the security check.” It doesn’t matter how secure or complex or devious the security check is, if the machine’s not doing it, it’s not doing it.
This new scheme is just a newer, bigger padlock on the door of a bamboo hut with a hole in the floor.
Note to Nolan: It has a unique id? Great. But your software has no way of knowing if that number is being reported correctly. There can be layers of emulation happening above, below, and alongside your software that can tell your game whatever it needs to hear in order to get on with the fun. You don’t control the machine.
My prediction: Not only will this not “end” piracy – this won’t even put a measurable dent in it. The very first game to use this system might enjoy a few extra days before it hits the torrents, and after that the process will become routine and it will be back to business as usual: Games cracked more or less on release day, paying customers are irritated, pirates get to play the game hassle-free, and you piss away a bunch of your shareholders’ money on another bad idea.
But what do I know? I’m not some fancy multimillionaire… president… guy. I’m just a consumer who’s been on the receiving end of this irritating nonsense since the beginning.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.