Stung by continuing criticism, the world's second-largest music label, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, promised Friday to temporarily suspend making music CDs with antipiracy technology that can leave computers vulnerable to hackers.
Sony defended its right to prevent customers from illegally copying music but said it will halt manufacturing CDs with the "XCP" technology as a precautionary measure. "We also intend to re-examine all aspects of our content protection initiative to be sure that it continues to meet our goals of security and ease of consumer use," the company said in a statement.
The antipiracy technology, which works only on Windows computers, prevents customers from making more than a few copies of the CD and prevents them from loading the CD's songs onto Apple Computer's popular iPod portable music players. Some other music players, which recognize Microsoft's proprietary music format, would work.
Sony's announcement came one day after leading security companies disclosed that hackers were distributing malicious programs over the Internet that exploited the antipiracy technology's ability to avoid detection. Hackers discovered they can effectively render their programs invisible by using names for computer files similar to ones cloaked by the Sony technology.
A senior Homeland Security official cautioned entertainment companies against discouraging piracy in ways that also make computers vulnerable. Stewart Baker, assistant secretary for policy at DHS, did not cite Sony by name in his remarks Thursday but described industry efforts to install hidden files on consumers' computers.
"It's very important to remember that it's your intellectual property, it's not your computer," Baker said at a trade conference on piracy. "And in the pursuit of protection of intellectual property, it's important not to defeat or undermine the security measures that people need to adopt in these days."
Sony's program is included on about 20 popular music titles, including releases by Van Zant and The Bad Plus.
"This is a step they should have taken immediately," said Mark Russinovich, chief software architect at Winternals Software who discovered the hidden copy-protection technology Oct. 31 and posted his findings on his Web log. He said Sony did not admit any wrongdoing, nor did it promise not to use similar techniques in the future.
Security researchers have described Sony's technology as "spyware," saying it is difficult to remove, transmits without warning details about what music is playing, and that Sony's notice to consumers about the technology was inadequate. Sony executives have rejected the description of their technology as spyware.
Some leading antivirus companies updated their protective software this week to detect Sony's antipiracy program, disable it and prevent it from reinstalling.
After Russinovich criticized Sony, it made available a software patch that removed the technology's ability to avoid detection. It also made more broadly available its instructions on how to remove the software permanently. Customers who remove the software are unable to listen to the music CD on their computer.