Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mark's Sysinternals Blog: Sony: You don’t reeeeaaaally want to uninstall, do you?:

A few days after I posted my first blog entry on Sony’s rootkit, Sony and Rootkits: Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far, Sony announced to the press that it was making available a decloaking patch and uninstall capability through its support site. Note that I said press and not customer. The uninstall process Sony has put in place is on par with mainstream spyware and adware and is the topic of this blog post.

As I’ve stated several times already, Sony’s rootkit hides the Digital Rights Management (DRM) files from users that have it installed, so users not monitoring the developments in this story are unaware of the scope and intrusiveness of the DRM. The End User License Agreement (EULA) does not provide any details on the software or its cloaking. Further, the software installation does not include support information and lacks a registration option, making it impossible for users to contact Sony and Sony to contact its users.

What if a user somehow discovers the hidden files, makes the connection between files and the Sony CD that installed them, and visits Sony BMG’s site in search of uninstall or support information? Or what about the unsuspecting Sony DRM user that happens to visit the Sony BMG site to look at their other offerings? Will these customers learn about the patch and uninstaller?

See for yourself. Visit and search for the support site Sony has made available to the press. There’s no information on this story anywhere on the front page, no support link, and the FAQ only contains information about Sony’s merger with BMG. The fact that Sony’s announcement was directed at the press and that they’ve made no effort to make contact with their customers makes the patch and uninstall look solely like a public relations gesture for the media.

Sony even gives those users like me that are aware of the “uninstaller” several hurdles to jump over. First you have to go to Sony’s support site, guess that the uninstall information is in the FAQ, click on the uninstall link and then fill out a form with your email address and purchasing information, possibly adding yourself to Sony’s marketing lists in the process.

Then, after you submit the information the site takes you to a page that notifies you that you’ll be receiving an email with a “Case ID”. A few minutes later you receive that email, which directs you to install the patch and then visit another page if you still really want to uninstall. That page requires you to install an ActiveX control, CodeSupport.Ocx, that’s signed by First 4 Internet, enter your case ID and fill in the reason for your request. Then you receive an email within a few minutes that informs you that a customer service representative will email you uninstall instructions within one business day.

When you eventually receive the uninstall email from Sony BMG support it comes with a cryptic link in the form (I’ve modified the link so it doesn’t work) to your personalized uninstall page. Interestingly, the email address has a confidentially notice, which implies to me that Sony has something to hide, and it informs you that the uninstaller will expire in one week.

If you visit the uninstall page from the computer where you filled out the first uninstall form then the DRM software is deleted from your system. However, if you visit it from another computer the page requires you install the same CodeSupport ActiveX control as the uninstall-request page, but then even if the computer has the DRM software installed you get this error:

Besides the obvious question of why there’s not a universal uninstall link, the error also begs the question of how the Sony site knows that the uninstall link is for a different computer? For that matter, why do you have to install an ActiveX control just to fill out a web form and why does that form have to be filled out “using the computer where the software is currently installed”? The email, web page and ActiveX control offer no hints.

I of course decided to investigate. A network trace of the ActiveX control’s communication with the Sony site using Ethereal reveals that the control sends Sony an encrypted block of data:

A Regmon trace of the ActiveX control’s activity when you press the submit button on the Web page reveals that the encrypted data is actually a signature that the control derives from the hardware configuration of your computer:

The uninstall link Sony sends you has your case ID encrypted in the address and when you visit the uninstall page the ActiveX control sends the hardware signature to Sony’s site. If the signature doesn’t match the one it stored earlier with your Case ID when you made the second uninstall request the site informs you that there’s a case ID mismatch.

While I’ve answered the question of how the uninstaller knows if the uninstall link is for your computer, I can’t definitively answer questions like:

  1. Why isn’t Sony publicizing the uninstall link on their site in any way?
  2. Why do you have to tell Sony twice that you want to uninstall?
  3. Why is the email with the uninstall link labeled confidential?
  4. Why does Sony generate a unique uninstall link for each computer?
Sony has left us to speculate, but under the circumstances the answer to all these questions seems obvious: Sony doesn’t want customers to know that there’s DRM software installed on their computers and doesn’t want them to uninstall it if they somehow discover it. Without exaggeration I can say that I’ve analyzed virulent forms of spyware/adware that provide more straightforward means of uninstall.

For those readers that are coming up to speed with the story, here’s a summary of important developments so far:

The DRM software Sony has been shipping on many CDs since April is cloaked with rootkit technology:
  • Sony denies that the rootkit poses a security or reliability threat despite the obvious risks of both
  • Sony claims that users don’t care about rootkits because they don’t know what a rootkit is
  • The installation provides no way to safely uninstall the software
  • Without obtaining consent from the user Sony’s player informs Sony every time it plays a “protected” CD
Sony has told the press that they’ve made a decloaking patch and uninstaller available to customers, however this still leaves the following problems:

  • There is no way for customers to find the patch from Sony BMG’s main web page
  • The patch decloaks in an unsafe manner that can crash Windows, despite my warning to the First 4 Internet developers
  • Access to the uninstaller is gated by two forms and an ActiveX control
  • The uninstaller is locked to a single computer, preventing deployment in a corporation
Consumers and antivirus companies are responding:

  • F-Secure independently identified the rootkit and provides information on its site
  • Computer Associates has labeled the Sony software “spyware”
  • A lawfirm has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of California consumers against Sony
  • ALCEI-EFI, an Italian digital-rights advocacy group, has formally asked the Italian government to investigate Sony for possible Italian law violations

(Via Mark's Sysinternals Blog.)

No comments: