Tag Archives: security

DRM Rant: Brought On By Civilization IV

I am not a fan of DRM. You sell your product, now let people use it. I can understand why the companies put it on, of course, they don’t want people copying their product. That’s not unfair, of course, but the end is not achieved by the means. People break the copy protection, and share the cracked games, ripped movies, and so on, and then other people go looking for them and downloading them. Don’t put the DRM on and pass the savings on to your consumers, more people will buy the product.

That’s not the only issue, of course: DRM can negatively impact legitimate users.

Like, I can buy Blu-Rays and not watch them on my computer, because I stick with VLC and most Blu-Ray discs don’t work on VLC.

Or, I can put Myst 5 or Star Wars: Empire At War in my machine, and they (at one point) complained that I had VirtualDrive on my computer. I didn’t, and that’s not any of their business anyway.

Had a legitimate disc of LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, it worked once, then every time after that told me to put in a legitimate disc rather than a copy. Got Battlefield 2142 second-hand, wouldn’t let me use the CD key in the box (“already registered to somebody else” – well deregister them! The key is mine now), and I wouldn’t pay more than twice what I originally paid for it, to get a new key (“throwing good money after bad”). I was only interested in the solo campaign, not multiplayer online, apparently didn’t make a difference.

Players of Civilization IV on Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 machines have noticed that their game doesn’t work on those systems any more. Games of its era often used Digital Rights Malware (that’s what it really stands for, right?) that put files where they didn’t belong, to check up on their users.

Microsoft have recently issued updates that stop these kinds of shenanigans. It causes a big inconvenience to a lot of people still playing games from that era, but as these DRMs can leave security holes in a computer system, I’d say it’s a good call. And perhaps unusual for a company that has been known to have a level of paranoia about users being legitimate (I recall hearing of genuine users being negatively affected by the Windows Genuine Advantage check, when that was introduced, though I never had a problem).

I’d say this is another case of companies using DRM, and legitimate users being negatively affected. This harsh judgment is softened, however, by the fact the game worked for around 10 years without a problem.

On the other hand, why would a company be concerned about the DRM on a ten-year-old game, when they have more recent versions out?

for Civilization IV, at least, the Beyond The Sword expansion has had the 3.19 patch for years now, one of the benefits of it being that it doesn’t require the CD to run anymore, so it doesn’t fall afoul of this new problem.

Earlier, I used the 2K games support system to suggest they add a similar patch to regular Civ IV and Warlords (an earlier expansion). In researching the problem, I found one thread suggesting that 2K games might be giving away Steam keys to the game, for legitimate users.

I haven’t heard back yet, so I can’t confirm the accuracy of that suggestion. Yet.

As I actually run Beyond The Sword, and, more often, the Planetfall mod, I don’t feel that affected. I’m sure I have plenty of games that will now refuse to work, were I to try them.

How many people will be hunting for NoCD cracks for games? How many people are driven to pirated versions of games because they work better than the legitimate versions?

The great philosopher Princess Leia once said something along the lines of, “The more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers”. Hopefully one day, the publishing companies will realise just how much this applies to them.

Experiments In Blu-Ray

A while ago, the DVD drive in my computer died, so I bought a Blu-Ray drive to replace it. We have a few Blu-Ray discs, in those combo packs that include both DVD and Blu-Ray.

Out of the somewhere-around-10 discs we have, last time I tried, I could only get one working in VLC (Kung-Fu Panda, the oldest title we had). And that’s with going round the internet, trying things people suggested.

The problem is, there’s so much paranoia at the movie companies that they insist on so much encryption and DRM, that it’s easier to rip the disc and watch the file (essentially pirate the disc) than it is to watch your legitimate disc on your legitimate drive.

I rather think these companies are shooting themselves in the foot, doing more to encourage pirating than to discourage it.

Having heard that saga, my parents offered to buy the family a Blu-Ray player (stand-alone box). I helped them pick one, but it didn’t seem entirely straightforward to link it with the system we have. The projector doesn’t have HDMI in and the sound system only has analog stereo in, the player has HDMI out and coaxial digital audio.

Did research at the time, found gadgets on Amazon that convert HDMI to VGA, so we got one of those. Haven’t tried it yet.

In the audio department, my past research was looking more at amps and new sound systems. Today I looked into digital-to-analog converters. Here’s what I found (just about exclusively from Amazon reviews):

For this type of job, there are two kinds of gadgets: converters, and decoders.

Converters only work when your device can be made to output in PCM or LPCM (I read what they were, I don’t remember now. Doesn’t really matter, check your device’s manual).

If you’re stuck with a device that will only output in something like Dolby Digital, you need a decoder. Decoders also seem to have a bit of an issue with lag: takes a bit of time to process the audio, so lips moving on screen are ahead of sound coming through speakers.

Fortunately, we only needed a converter.

Most had overall positive reviews, but it’s always worth looking at the negative reviews.

I looked at the one-star reviews: there were a lot of plain “it didn’t work!”-type reviews, that could easily be attributable to not knowing about the PCM thing. Then there were a few “it worked, then it didn’t”-type reviews, and you can find reviews like that for just about everything. There were also some “it says digital to analog, but it means analog to digital”, on a couple of similar products, which seemed to contradict the positive reviews of people it worked for, who are trying to do the same thing as me.

And then there were some weird reports on the type of power connector that came with one of the products: “came with a non-American plug!” “came with an American plug!” “came with some weird USB thing!”

In the end, you just have to give something a go, though, don’t you?

We’ll see how it goes.

Adventures in Computer Security

My first email address was a Hotmail one. I was in college, and kept trying lots and lots of different things until I found one that they didn’t try and stick a number after. It was frog-themed, and I’ve kept that theme ever since. Even when I branched out into other webmail, even with a slightly modified name on message boards. I had a different website for a while, that had an amphibious motif to it.

I ran Outlook for a while, but have kept coming back to webmail.

These days, of course, we know that email is collected and analysed, some by the email providers to advertise to you better, some by the government because they’re fricking control freaks.

When America was still The Colonies, the British would intercept and analyse mail, looking for treasonous, rebellious and terroristic intent. The colonies set up their own mail system to get around this. Now the US government collects the world’s emails for the exact same purpose. What they’re saying (and not just with this issue), is that the British were right all along.

Well done, you public officials who swore to uphold the Constitution (which was rather against this sort of thing), but let this happen.

Just like the American colonists of yesteryear, there are digital colonists who rightly think that perhaps today’s government is overreaching just a little bit. And then finding ways around it.

Encrypting emails is one way that people are reclaiming their liberty and freedom.

A while ago I read an article on things you could do to improve your internet security and privacy, and a new one just did the rounds in the last couple of weeks. I gave the SeaMonkey internet suite a go, partly for a “try a different browser” challenge (I now use SeaMonkey, IE9, Vivaldi and Opera 12 daily, with FireFox as a “guest” browser on the machine proper, and FireFox as the default browser on my Lubuntu Virtual Machines). I chose SeaMonkey also for email encryption, but I haven’t tried setting that up until today. I read about it months ago, and I’m mainly getting around to it now because I’m finally setting up (after about a week now) the email for this site.

SeaMonkey’s email program doesn’t do the privacy stuff on its own, you have to install a couple of other things.

I followed the instructions for Enigmail. The first thing to do is install GnuPG (which was very straightforward). Installing Enigmail for SeaMonkey was a bit less obvious, but I found it by going through SeaMonkey’s menu, and looking for addons. Setting everything up was straightforward. Well, might be not-entirely-easy for the not-techie, especially throwing in the POP3 settings and everything (POP downloads your emails from the web server to your computer, IMAP leaves them on the server – figured the less time on the server the better). Fairly straightforward to do, but a bit of work.

If you’re looking through the instructions, I didn’t put my Public Key up for the world to see, yet, or really any of the steps after that.

Start small. One step at a time. and work up to sending everything encrypted: cat pictures, puns, world domination plans, the usual :)