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  1. Xbox Series X DRM Makes It Near Impossible to Play Games Offline It seems that Microsoft’s digital rights management decisions for the Xbox Series X are a serious cause for concern. According to a video from YouTuber and game developer Modern Vintage Gamer, the Xbox Series X is unable to play games without connecting to Microsoft’s servers. He tried games off a disc like Rise of the Tomb Raider as well as Hitman 3 and both refused to work offline. While Microsoft recommends keeping your Xbox Series X as your ‘Home Console’ in its settings, it’s a solution that’s described as a ‘band-aid’ as it doesn’t seem to work with every game as it should. Native Xbox Series X physical games like Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition work fine. It installed off the disc and ran as it should offline. This should in theory mean that games that are solely for the Xbox Series X should work both offline and online. However with Microsoft’s focus on Smart Delivery, it means that the current crop of Xbox Series X discs that run on Xbox One as well are essentially coasters. All of this essentially means that you won’t be able to play your Xbox games when Microsoft decides to take its servers offline. You can check out the video for yourself right here. Modern Vintage Gamer’s video hasn’t gone unnoticed. Preservationist group Does It Play chimed in on the matter, taking to Twitter with the following statement. “Combined with its forced online set up ALL Xbox consoles and smart delivery game’s will one day be obsolete,” the group says. “Talk about caring for preservation all you want, actions speak louder than words and right now Xbox is the worst platform for preservation.” Of late gamers are growing increasingly aware of what appears to be console companies exercising a near obscene amount of control over their games. Sony was taken to task for its heavy-handed policies regarding the PS3, PS4, PSP, PS Vita, and most recently, PS5. Safe to say, Microsoft’s been no better in this respect. For what it’s worth, we were able to replicate Modern Vintage Gamer’s findings and reached out to Microsoft for comment. We’ll update this story if we hear from the company. Source: Xbox Series X DRM Makes It Near Impossible to Play Games Offline
  2. Several organizations have asked the Copyright Office to renew the exemption to the DMCA's DRM circumvention restrictions. This allows abandoned online games to be preserved for future generations. In addition, the Software Preservation Network and the Library Copyright Alliance ask for an expansion, to allow these games to be made available more broadly. There are a lot of things people are not allowed to do under US copyright law, but perhaps just as importantly there are exemptions too. The U.S. Copyright Office regularly reviews these exemptions to Section 1201 of the DMCA, which prevents the public from ‘tinkering’ with DRM-protected content and devices. These provisions are renewed every three years after the Office hears various arguments from stakeholders and the general public. This also allows interested parties to suggest new exemptions. During the last update in 2018, there was a small but significant win for nostalgic gamers. To preserve ‘abandoned’ games for future generations, the Copyright Office expanded the game preservation exemptions to games that require an online component. This was a crucial addition, as most games nowadays have an online aspect. With the new exemption, preservation institutions that legally possess a copy of a video game’s server code and the game’s local code were allowed to break DRM and other technological restrictions to make these playable. This type of “tinkering” is now seen as fair use by the Government, which rejected critique from the major game companies who feared that libraries and museums might exploit this right for commercial purposes, which would hurt their sales. A few weeks ago the Copyright Office started its latest review of the DMCA exemptions which will be updated next year. Since then, several submissions from archivists, digital rights, and consumer organizations have come in. Several of these ask the Office to renew the current exemptions for abandoned online games. The Software Preservation Network (SPN) and the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) note that this new exemption ensures that classic games will be preserved. This allows nostalgic gamers and younger generations to play older games that are no longer officially supported. This has already led to some success stories. “For instance, Georgia Tech Library’s Computing Lab, retroTECH, has a significant collection of recovered video game consoles, many of which are made accessible for research and teaching uses by the §1201 exemption. Dozens of Gameboy Advance, console and PC games can now be preserved, with lower risks of copyright infringement claims or legal action,” SPN and LCS write. The call to renew the exemption is supported by the nonprofit group Consumer Reports, which notes that the exemption “has proven very beneficial to consumers in removing this obstacle to preserving the functionality of video games they enjoy.” In addition to renewing the current rules, SPN and LCS have also requested an expansion. At the moment, they are allowed to break DRM, if needed, but these games can only be made available inside the premises of ‘eligible’ institutions such as libraries and museums. In a new submission, both groups ask the Copyright Office to drop this restriction. “SPN and the LCA request expansion of the video game preservation exemption […] to eliminate the requirement that the program not be distributed or made available outside of the physical premises of an eligible institution,” they write. As always, the current DMCA review will take a few months to be completed. While the request will certainly be considered, it’s possible that games companies will object to the new suggestion, as they have done repeatedly in the past. Much of the credit for getting the Copyright Office to adopt the present exemption goes to San Francisco’s Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (The MADE), which filed its petition three years ago. The Museum, which is loved by many gaming fans, recently had to close its doors and put its collection into storage. However, like many abandoned games, it’s not gone forever. The MADE is currently raising money to respawn elsewhere. Source: TorrentFreak
  3. With the grand launch of Cyberpunk 2077 just two days away, some gamers have become irritated by the news that developer CD Projekt Red has implemented Denuvo anti-tamper technology into review copies of the game. Considering the developer's anti-DRM stance, some suggest that using Denuvo is somewhat hypocritical. Absolute nonsense. Cyberpunk 2077 may well be the most-hyped videogame of all time. It will be released in two days’ time and for hundreds of thousands of gaming fans, those 48 hours can’t be over soon enough so they can empty their wallets. Of course, piracy is always a risk, yet after a herculean development cycle utilizing hundreds of workers to put together what developer CD Projekt Red hopes will be its most successful title, the company will throw itself to the wolves by selling the game without copy protection. While that is likely to please many gamers and the anti-DRM movement, the decision must have companies like Ubisoft, who seem to love Denuvo, scratching their heads. But CD Projekt Red isn’t throwing all caution to the wind. Cyberpunk 2077: Meet Denuvo During the past couple of days, reviewers lucky enough to have received an advance copy of Cyberpunk 2077 have been publishing their early opinions. Inevitable bugs aside, the majority seem to have been impressed by the scale and ambition of the game, something which will please fans and the developer alike. However, news that those copies had Denuvo copy protection embedded had some observers doing a quick double-take. Denuvo? In Cyberpunk 2077? A mistake, surely? To better understand why this revelation caused alarm, it’s useful to take a look at CD Projekt’s historical attitudes towards DRM. In addition to its development work, the company also owns GOG, a digital distribution platform for video games and video. Unlike similar services, GOG forces no DRM on its customers, something that has earned it a unique place in many gamers’ hearts. In addition, GOG and CD Projekt are behind the FCKDRM ‘movement’ which highlights the numerous downsides to DRM while promoting DRM-free sources. With slogans like “You bought it, you own it” and “Don’t hand your rights over to corporations that wouldn’t trust you,” FCKDRM is a truth-teller when it comes to DRM and DRM-like systems. The fact is that many games these days could one day refuse to run in the absence of an Internet connection, or could be assigned to history on the whim of a publisher. In common with all gamers, GOG and FCKDRM believe that shouldn’t be the case. So Why Has CD Projekt Turned to Denuvo? It’s important to note that the official release of Cyberpunk 2077 will not have Denuvo, it’s only the free review copies that are affected. Nevertheless, some feel that the company should have shied away from DRM altogether since this clashes with the stated principles of CD Projekt/GOG/FCKDRM. Those people are completely wrong and the decision to use Denuvo, in this case, makes complete sense. From a technical perspective, Denuvo does what it claims to do. It protects games in the important days and weeks following launch, making it a perfect candidate to prevent early piracy of Cyberpunk 2077. However, and perhaps more importantly, what CD Projekt is trying to avoid here is the possibility that its game leaks out on to the Internet before launch. On day one of release, Cyberpunk 2077 will be a sitting duck for pirates. With no DRM, CD Projekt is putting its faith in its ability to convince people to buy the game and not pirate it. To quote company co-founder Marcin Iwiński, “We cannot force people to buy things. We can only convince them to do it. We totally believe in the carrot, not in the stick.” And this is the key point. Until December 10 arrives, no one will be able to buy this game. The developers may have already convinced hundreds of thousands of gamers to buy Cyberpunk 2077 and not pirate it, but if there’s a pre-release leak, all bets are off. Essentially, CD Projekt will have relied on the goodwill of fans and their belief that rejecting DRM is a good thing, and then found themselves beaten, not just by pirates, but by the fact they will be unable to compete for consumption of their own product. For a pro-consumer company, that can never be right. Using Denuvo In *FREE* Review Copies Betrays Nobody Anyone who closely followed the GOG/FCKDRM campaign will have understood its focus. The philosophy of the entire project was to highlight the negative effects that DRM (including systems like Denuvo) can have on consumers. Things like ‘kill switches’, systems that prevent users from modifying game files, and requirements for players to continually prove ownership. While Denuvo arguably contains all of these to some extent, not a single line of Denuvo code will make it to a legitimate copy of Cyberpunk 2077 installed on the machine of a regular PC gamer. In this respect, CD Projekt will have kept every promise it’s ever made. In much the same way they secure their company servers from hackers intent on grabbing content they have no right to access, its use of Denuvo in Cyberpunk 2077 in review copies is merely an extension of that, not a betrayal of its principles. What the developer is saying, it appears, is that it believes it has obtained enough trust from players to invest in its creation, but it will never trust pirates intent on leaking its product before launch. And that stance, regardless of what anyone might say, is the smartest and most pragmatic possible under the circumstances. Source: TorrentFreak
  4. A hacking team believed to have obtained data from gaming giant Ubisoft has published documents that claim to reveal the costs of implementing Denuvo's anti-piracy protection. While the service doesn't come cheap, the figures suggest that for a big company putting out big titles with the potential for plenty of sales, the anti-tamper technology may represent value for money. Mid-October, news began to surface that the systems of gaming giants Ubisoft and Crytek had fallen victim to a hacker attack. Samples of the companies’ data first appeared on the dark web portal of ransomware group Egregor along with threats that the team could leak more confidential data in the days to come. Indeed, at the start of November, the source code for Watch Dogs: Legion reportedly hit the web. Supposed Denuvo Contact Leaked This week a new leak, apparently from the same haul, made an appearance online. Posted to various platforms including Twitter, the documents appear to reveal the financial costs of implementing Denuvo’s anti-tamper technology into Crysis Remastered. The costs and effectiveness of Denuvo are hotly debated topics so this document, which appears to be authentic, casts an interesting light on the decisions faced by companies looking to protect their titles from piracy – if only for a while. Crysis Remastered – The Costs of Denuvo The ‘statement of work’ document begins by listing the headline price of Denuvo’s anti-tamper technology. There are two components – 60,000 euros for the first 12 months of anti-tamper plus another 80,000 euros if the company required ‘unique encryption’. This headline 140,000 figure could receive a discount in the event that the game was released before the end of March 2021, specifically on the Epic platform. In the event, Crysis Remastered was released on September 18, 2020, meaning that the first year of protection from Denuvo was reduced to 126,000 euros. After the 12-month ‘protection’ period, the licensee will be given the opportunity to extend the contract, with each additional month costing an extra 2,000 euros. In the meantime, however, additional costs can be incurred if Crysis Remastered turns out to be a particularly successful venture. In the event that the game receives 500,000 “cumulative first time activations” at any time during the licensing period, an additional one-off fee of 60,000 euros is payable to Denuvo. Crysis Remastered Was Cracked a Month After Release Just over a month following its release, Crysis Remastered was cracked by the group CPY, albeit after a couple of attempts to get things working as intended. So, considering that the title only enjoyed just over 30 days’ worth of protection, does that mean that Denuvo was a failure and therefore poor value for money? That’s a big question but given that Denuvo’s current position is that it aims to protect games in the first days and weeks following release, claiming that Denuvo failed seems to be off the table. Whether it still represents good value for money also requires some guesswork, accurate figures for which are largely unavailable. Waste of Time or Value For Money? Nevertheless, since we know that Crysis Remastered was released in the Denuvo-discounted period before March 31, 2021, and we optimistically include the 500,000 copies sold clause relating to the first year, in this Denuvo protection will cost around 186,000 euros. Reductions aside (some outlets are currently discounting the game), 500,000 copies sold at roughly $30.00 sounds a bit like $15m in revenue so, with the protection costing around 1.2% of gross, that doesn’t sound too bad. Indeed, at those prices, if the game enjoyed around 6,200 more sales during the first month from people who would’ve pirated had Denuvo not stopped them, the financial gamble seems pretty balanced, at least as far as this game is concerned. Also, it’s worth pointing out that just because a game’s protection fails after a while, it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t go on to commercial success. For reference, the first Crysis was pirated at least 940,000 times in the year following its release (2007/2008) but remained profitable and went on to sell at least three million copies. Times have changed along with the entire market since then, but it’s worth a mention. Denuvo Provides Additional Services in the Package As part of the deal, Denuvo reportedly sends its engineers to the developer during the initial integration and then provides remote troubleshooting support, right up until the launch of the title. The company also carries out manual testing of the protected title and then scans for early piracy leaks post-launch alongside manual piracy monitoring with regular emailed updates. Denuvo is Probably Here to Stay While the leaked documents only relate to Crysis Remastered, it is by no means the only game with Denuvo protection. Of all games released since September, just four have been cracked, all of them taking roughly a month to hit pirate sites. To date, titles including FIFA 21, Watch Dogs: Legion have all ‘survived’ their first four weeks, with others such as Dirt 5 and Need For Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered creeping close to that target. Whether those titles and the ones released more recently (Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, and Football Manager 2021) will make it too remains to be seen but overall it seems that developers still have confidence in Denuvo and the insurance-type policy it provides. Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Cyberpunk 2077, the most anticipated title of 2020, will release December 12 without any DRM whatsoever. It’s not clear what kind of deal Denuvo would’ve offered its developer but it is expected to become a smash-hit nonetheless. The question of whether it could enjoy even more success with Denuvo may never be answered. Source: TorrentFreak
  5. GitHub has removed several repositories that helped to bypass Google's Widevine DRM, which is used by popular streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. Google requested the code to be removed as it would violate the DMCA. The company also sent a sensitive data takedown request for the associated RSA key which, ironically, remains easy to find through Google. With more ways to stream online video than ever before, protecting video continues to be a key issue for copyright holders. This is often achieved through Digital Rights Management, which is often referred to by the initials DRM. In a nutshell, DRM is an anti-piracy tool that dictates when and where digital content can be accessed. Google is an important player in this area. The company owns the Widevine DRM technology which is used by many of the largest streaming services including Amazon, Netflix and Disney+. As such, keeping it secure is vital. Widevine DRM Widevine DRM comes in different levels. The L1 variant is the most secure, followed by L2 and L3. While the latter still protects content from being easily downloaded, it’s certainly not impossible to bypass, as pirates have repeatedly shown. Despite its vulnerabilities, Google doesn’t want to make it too easy for the public at large. This became apparent a few hours ago when the company asked the developer platform GitHub to remove dozens of “Widevine L3 Decryptor” repositories. The code, originally published by security researcher Tomer Hadad, is a proof-of-concept code Chrome extension that shows how easy it is to bypass the low-security DRM. Google was aware of this vulnerability and previously informed Krebs Security that it would address the issue. Google Targets Widevine L3 Decryptor Code One option would be to patch the security flaw but, for now, Google appears to be focusing on the takedown route. In a DMCA notice sent to GitHub, the company requests the immediate takedown of dozens of “Widevine L3 Decryptor” copies. “The following git repository [sic] contain circumvention technology that enables users to illegally access video and audio works protected by copyright,” Google writes. “This Chrome extension demonstrates how it’s possible to bypass Widevine DRM by hijacking calls to the browser’s Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) and decrypting all Widevine content keys transferred – effectively turning it into a clearkey DRM,” Google adds. Google sees the code, which was explicitly published for educational purposes only, as a circumvention tool. As such, it allegedly violates section 1201 of the DMCA, an allegation that was also made against the youtube-dl code last month. The takedown notice includes a long list of repositories that were all made unavailable by GitHub. This doesn’t cover the original code from Tomer Hadad, who already removed his version in late October, citing “legal reasons.” Google views this vulnerability as a serious matter and the company says that it has also filed a Sensitive Data takedown request to prevent the Widevine’s ‘secret’ private key from being publicly shared. Sensitive Data Request “In addition to this request, we have filed a separate Sensitive Data takedown request of this file: /widevine-l3-decryptor as it contains the secret Widevine RSA private key, which was extracted from the Widevine CDM and can be used in other circumvention technologies.” That last mention is interesting as private keys, which are simply a string of characters, are not seen as copyrighted or private content by everyone. “If you distribute your key with the software, then whatever form it is in, I would not consider it “private” at all,” a commenter on Hacker News points out. Googling the AACS Key This ‘key controversy’ is reminiscent of an issue that was widely debated thirteen years ago. At the time, a hacker leaked the AACS cryptographic key “09 F9” online which prompted the MPAA and AACS LA to issue DMCA takedown requests to sites where it surfaced. This escalated into a censorship debate when sites started removing articles that referenced the leak, triggering a massive backlash. At the time, the controversial AACS key was still readily available through Google’s search engine. In that regard very little has changed. Despite Google’s sensitive data takedown request, the Widevine RSA key is easy to find through its own search engine. Source: TorrentFreak
  6. Google Mending Another Crack in Widevine For the second time in as many years, Google is working to fix a weakness in its Widevine digital rights management (DRM) technology used by online streaming sites like Disney, Hulu and Netflix to prevent their content from being pirated. The latest cracks in Widevine concern the encryption technology’s protection for L3 streams, which is used for low-quality video and audio streams only. Google says the weakness does not affect L1 and L2 streams, which encompass more high-definition video and audio content. “As code protection is always evolving to address new threats, we are currently working to update our Widevine software DRM with the latest advancements in code protection to address this issue,” Google said in a written statement provided to KrebsOnSecurity. In January 2019, researcher David Buchanan tweeted about the L3 weakness he found, but didn’t release any proof-of-concept code that others could use to exploit it before Google fixed the problem. This latest Widevine hack, however, has been made into an extension for Microsoft Windows users of the Google Chrome web browser and posted for download on the software development platform Github. Tomer Hadad, the researcher who developed the browser extension, said his proof-of-concept code “was done to further show that code obfuscation, anti-debugging tricks, whitebox cryptography algorithms and other methods of security-by-obscurity will eventually by defeated anyway, and are, in a way, pointless.” Google called the weakness a circumvention that would be fixed. But Hadad took issue with that characterization. “It’s not a bug but an inevitable flaw because of the use of software, which is also why L3 does not offer the best quality,” Hadad wrote in an email. “L3 is usually used on desktops because of the lack of hardware trusted zones.” Media companies that stream video online using Widevine can select different levels of protection for delivering their content, depending on the capabilities of the device requesting access. Most modern smartphones and mobile devices support much more robust L1 and L2 Widevine protections that do not rely on L3. Further reading: Breaking Content Protection on Streaming Websites Google Mending Another Crack in Widevine
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