Sony Rootkits, round 2

You may remember in November 2005 when I wrote about [1] the Sony/BMG rootkit scandal. To summarize: they put software on their music CDs that, when run in a computer, automatically installed files you couldn’t detect (this was the rootkit part) that acted a lot like malware, and screwed with your CD-ROM drivers so that if you tried to uninstall it, you could no longer use your CD-ROM drive. The intended purpose was to run DRM software that kept you from copying your CDs, and to hide this software so you couldn’t uninstall it. However, the rootkit could also be exploited by others, so that any malicious software (if installed in the right place) would go completely undetected by any antivirus program you might be running. It was nasty stuff. Sony eventually recalled the CDs and offered to give out software to remove the rootkit if you gave them your name, address, phone number, and a bunch of other information. In the meantime, the FTC ruled that the software was illegal, and Sony paid out millions of dollars in class-action lawsuits.

Why do I bring this up, I hear you ask? Well, it seems that Sony can’t let this idea die: earlier this week it was revealed that Sony is trying a similar thing with their new USB flash drives. Again, this software automatically installs a rootkit on your computer, and again this rootkit can be easily exploited by any other software to hide files on your machine. I suspect this will end similarly, with a recall and a class-action lawsuit, assuming this gets as far in the media as the last rootkit did (I hope the media picks up on this).

I remember back in the day when Sony was a great company, and I really liked them. Things seem to have changed significantly since Howard Stringer became CEO of the company (which happened about 9 months before the first rootkit scandal was born). These days, I’m really dismayed with them. I’m now going to start boycotting Sony products (which shouldn’t be too hard, since I don’t buy much from them anyway).

[1] Only half the links in my old post still work. Sorry about that. Does anyone have any good ideas for how to avoid this problem in the future?

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