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MS Audio Gets "Unfucked"
by Doug Reece  -

Aug. 17, 1999

Even as Microsoft officially rolled out its MS Audio 4 technology today, hackers in the MP3 community were busy touting a new program of their own.

As first reported by Dimension Music, a hack, dubbed "unfuck" by its anonymous creator, removes security from MS Audio files. tested the program on an encrypted MS Audio file of Tori Amos' "Bliss" single and found that unfuck successfully removed security hooks from the song.

The unfortunate timing of both releases could call into question Microsoft's ability to give, as the company mentioned in today's statement, "content publishers the ability to control and manage the distribution and use of digital audio and video content, extending existing distribution models and enabling new e-commerce opportunities."

To date, several major labels, including Atlantic and Columbia, have experimented with the MS Audio format. Columbia parent Sony Music Entertainment announced in May that it had teamed with Microsoft to distribute its content online.

However, an SDMI memo leaked to in June noted that programs such as unfuck could, at some point, be cause for "revocation" by the music industry. Generally speaking, this term indicates the process by which a device may have its SDMI-compliant status removed.

The unfuck hack, like the Audiojacker and Total Recorder programs that preceded it, also raises some interesting legal and technical issues.

Dimension Music founder Angelo Sotira believes limitations on encryption technologies, sometimes placed there by government agencies concerned with issues such as the Central Intelligence Agency, weaken security mechanisms substantially.

"We all know that on some level the CIA is involved in encryption technologies and how effective they can be," said Sotira. "The fact is that they are saying encryption can't be too complicated, and as a result, we're never going to reach a level where something is uncrackable. If the CIA can do it, others can do it. What it really comes down to is that it's just a matter of time."

According to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), "No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title. The prohibition contained in the preceding sentence shall take effect at the end of the 2-year period beginning on the date of the enactment of this chapter."

Still, the DMCA also takes care to provide an exception to its anti-circumvention rules: "a person may develop and employ technological means to circumvent a technological measure, or to circumvent protection afforded by a technological measure . . . for the purpose of enabling interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, if such means are necessary to achieve such interoperability, to the extent that doing so does not constitute [copyright] infringement."

Upon learning of the existence of the unfuck program, Microsoft representatives said they would take action to correct any security cracks.

"Obviously, Microsoft takes security very seriously," said a Microsoft spokesperson. "We can't confirm anything, but are looking into it."

Meanwhile, Microsoft chairman/CEO Bill Gates was bullish on the new codec.

"Today's release of Windows Media Technologies 4 sets a new standard for audio and video quality on the Internet," said Gates in today's statement. "The delivery of Internet CD-quality audio with unprecedented compression accelerates the availability of a whole new class of applications and will usher in the next generation of digital media over the Internet."

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