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updated 3/14/2011 2:10:33 PM ET 2011-03-14T18:10:33

This morning, Engadget created a tempest in a teapot when reporting on the release of pass codes for the HDCP encryption format, experts say. This format is used to encrypt information moving across connectors such as  the HDMI cable that connects DVD players to television sets. It does not protect Blu-ray or HD DVDs directly.

Engadget claimed that "the DRM genie could be permanently out of the bag allowing perfect high definition copies of anything [their italics]." This sounds foreboding, but it mostly isn't true, experts say.

"We’ve known for nine years that this was possible. Its certainly not a surprise. I think that in the grand scheme of things, it's not that big a deal," said David Wagner, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, who exposed the security flaws of HDCP almost a decade ago.

The encryption on those were cracked some time ago, so this new development adds nothing to the world of digital media piracy, Wagner said.

In fact, two separate teams of academics detailed the security vulnerabilities of the HDCP format nine years ago, so the latest cracking success isn't novel. Whether or not this new security breach used those ancient breakthroughs remains to be seen, said Ian Goldberg, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Waterloo, Canada.

But the implication for the regular consumer is very minor, said UC Berkeley's Wagner. "DVDs have been cracked, Blu-rays have been cracked. It won’t have a major impact."

To use this security breach to copy a movie, a pirate would need to play the Blu-ray on a regular device, and then record the video and audio output of that device. Not only do easier and faster pirating techniques exist, but this method also fails to copy any data, such as menus or interactive special features.

While cracking the HDCP encryption format does prove, once again, that all formats can and will be broken by hackers, it doesn't matter much in and of itself, Wagner said.

However, encryption formats don't need to be unbreakable to be useful. They only need to be such a hassle for the regular consumer to crack that they'd rather pay for media than go through the trouble of downloading it illegally. And to that standard, the HDCP protocol worked just fine.

"For the general public, this won't mean much of anything," said Geoff Meyers, a software engineer who specializes in cryptography.

 

 

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