Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.
This week the tech and geekier news outlets were all abuzz about a number, and how that number was being posted in literally thousands of places around the internet in defiance of those wanting to keep that number secret.
So what's so special about this number?
It's the decryption key for all high definition DVDs produced to date.
It's not a copyright issue (or if it is, that's beside the point), but the AACS, who own and control the DVD copy-protection scheme is apparently sending out DMCA take-down notices as fast as they can print them. (AACS stands for Advanced Access Content Systems, and DMCA is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which attempts to codify the relationship of copyright to easily copied digital media.) Even though this isn't a copyright issue per se, the DMCA also covers issues such as possession of technology which could be employed to break the encryption used by copyright holders.
In other words being in possession of this number could be a crime.
To grossly oversimplify since the actual methods are incredibly complex, the technical issue is simply this: using public key encryption, the private "secret" key that's required to unlock the encrypted digital information must be kept in every device capable of using that media. So your HD-DVD player has the key. It's well hidden, but it's there.
If your computer can play HD-DVD, that key is there too. Hidden in the software, but it's there.
And the number? It's that key. It's a 128bit number that, with the right software, can be used to decode HD-DVDs and render the copy protection scheme pointless.
Yes, the key's already been changed, but given that this key was found I don't doubt that the next key will be too. And the key after that. And after that.
Given the incredibly complex software and infrastructure that needed to be created to support this scheme, and that it's really only going to keep honest people honest since hackers will naturally step up to the challenge and crack it, and make those cracks available to the less-than-honest anyway...
Someone remind me ... why are we doing this again?
I'd love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.info and enter 11463 in the go to article number box to access the show notes and to leave me a comment. While you're there, browse over 1,100 technical questions and answers on the site.
Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.info.
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