DRM Still Breaking Games Nearly A Decade After Purchase

from the call-it-what-it-really-is:-gaping-security-holes dept

About a month ago, Microsoft's Boris Schneider-Johne explained that -- along with everything else Windows 10 was bringing to the party (privacy invasion, blocking of pirated software) -- it would also be bricking certain paid-for software. Two early -- and much-hated -- forms of DRM just simply didn't play nice with the new operating system: SecuROM and Safedisc.

"Everything that ran in Windows 7 should also run in Windows 10," said Johne, "There are just two silly exceptions: antivirus software, and stuff that’s deeply embedded into the system needs updating—but the developers are on it already—and then there are old games on CD-ROM that have DRM. This DRM stuff is also deeply embedded in your system, and that’s where Windows 10 says, 'Sorry, we cannot allow that, because that would be a possible loophole for computer viruses.' That’s why there are a couple of games from 2003-2008 with SecuROM, etc. that simply don’t run without a no-CD patch or some such."
This was great news for purchasers of these games, who had already been screwed once by the inclusion of DRM. Now, the DRM is considered a security flaw and their older games would no longer be playable on a computer running Windows 10. The purposefully-flawed software "protected" software companies from piracy (well, not really...) but left paying purchasers exposed.

The problem continues. As Microsoft seeks to seal more security holes, it's patching up earlier versions of its OS. So, people using older operating systems -- and playing even older games -- are now going to find their purchased software similarly useless.
A recent security patch released this month, MS15-097 Vulnerabilities in Microsoft Graphics Component Could Allow Remote Code Execution, breaks computer games that rely on the DRM system Safedisc on Microsoft's Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 operating system.

Games that rely on Safedisc include the Age of Empire series, Battlefield 1942, Civilization 3, various Command and Conquer games or Microsoft Flight Simulator. These are all old games released more than 10 years ago but still playable on modern systems.
Microsoft has been so kind as to post a workaround that uses the Command Prompt to open/close the insecure driver to allow the games to be played. This workaround can also be applied permanently, but Microsoft recommends against this because it also re-opens the security hole permanently. And, once again, it's the paying customers who no longer have access -- or at least easy access -- to their purchases.

Now, one could argue that the damage done here is minimal. The games are old and very few Windows users will still be playing them. But justifying DRM by claiming it only affects a small number of people is a pretty terrible argument. No one necessarily expects 10-year-old software to adapt flawlessly to new operating systems, but they don't expect to be completely locked out of their purchases by security updates either.

It's not like purchasers expect this sort of behavior from other products they've purchased. A fifty-year-old book can be read just as easily as one printed last week, no matter how much printing technology has advanced over the past five decades. A board game can still be enjoyed years after its purchase, no matter how much game manufacturers would like you to purchase their newer offerings. Software shouldn't be an exception to the rule. But it is, thanks to DRM.

The fact that these two forms of DRM are considered vulnerabilities by the dominant operating system in the PC market says a lot about the software companies' priorities. It's a short-sighted viewpoint that only considers the first few weeks of sales. Anything these companies can do to protect these is considered excusable, even if it makes paying customers unhappy -- either immediately after their purchase, or several years down the road.

Filed Under: drm, safedisc, securom, video games, windows 10
Companies: microsoft

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  1. identicon
    TDR, 29 Sep 2015 @ 10:08am

    Yet another reason I'm glad I finally made the permanent jump to Linux (Linux Mint 17, specifically) when I did. No more putting up with crap like this from MS. My OS is under my control, not that of some indifferent company. And I've gotten all but one or two of my Windows games (not counting DOS games, which all of them work flawlessly in DOSBox's native Linux version) to work either via Wine or by finding native Linux versions (such as for the Quake series). And the OS is fast, too, unlike Windows, which moves like a pig in molasses more often than not.

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