TOPIC: A word of caution about DRM

A word of caution about DRM 6 years 10 months ago #1087

The developer is already aware of this issue, so i'll just repeat it here in case someone else will encounter it.

Long story short, Scuffham ampsim, being one of the best ampsims i've ever tried, uses this abomination of a DRM called FlexNet. Admittedly, for most users it is OK, but there are certain use cases and situations where this will matter.

Basically, FlexNet works by writing stuff directly to the hard drive, to unallocated space between the Master Boot Record, and the first partition. That means there is a good chance it will break your bootloader, in case you are not using only Windows.

First i've ran into issues when i tested the plugin on my machine with TrueCrypt. TrueCrypt uses a bootloader written in the very area FlexNet writes its data to, effectively overwriting parts of the bootloader. From my understanding, things like PGP Desktop might be affected too, because they work similarly to TrueCrypt.

I've then used it on my home machine, which dual boots Linux and Windows. The first time i installed Scuffham amp there, everything went fine. But recently i decided to reinstall everything, and now i finally got to do that, and this time FlexNet did overwrite parts of my BURG bootloader. Thankfully, i always have recovery tools ready and recovered quickly. But still this means that if you are multi-booting with GRUB (or have any other stuff written in that disk area, for that matter), there is a *chance* that it will get corrupt by FlexNet.

So in case you have this problem - then you can have two situations. If you are simply using GRUB/GRUB2/BURG bootloader to multi-boot OS's - there is a way to reinstall the bootloader avoiding those sectors FlexNet writes to (look up Boot-Repair, a Linux-based ISO image with all the tools necessary - repairing GRUB will be a matter of running a GUI tool and checking a checkbox for "FlexNet error").

If you have this problem while using PGP Desktop or TrueCrypt... well, i'm sorry, but you're out of luck - you will have to refrain from using Scuffham Amp (or any FlexNet software, for that matter). Since TrueCrypt and PGP Desktop (and possibly other system encryption software) are very specialized programs, they are not designed to avoid such situations and don't provide facilities to do that (although if you have a certain level of competence, you could customize TrueCrypt to fit this use case).

Also, from reading this subforum, there are a few other very special circumstances where FlexNet might become a problem, namely, moving stuff between different partitions/hard drive or, for that matter, anything that would involve changes to the environment in terms of having access to the modified HDD sectors. If something deletes the FlexNet sector, the activation will be void, and if you reactivate again - chances are whatever cleared that sector (e.g. GRUB) won't work as expected.

I hope this will be useful to someone. I found it out the hard way ;)

This is not a "never gonna use this plug" post, it's just due to the extreme invasiveness of the DRM (what the hell, NO user space application has ANY business on my unpartitioned space, period) there are certain things users need to be aware of. And i still believe that informing users of this potential problem is a matter of courtesy and should be part of the installation process - after all, we're installing a rootkit-like DRM on our machine, we have a right to know when we do that as opposed to finding out after the fact.
Last edit: 6 years 10 months ago by Burillo.

Re: A word of caution about DRM 6 years 10 months ago #1096

Very interesting.

I'm running S-Gear on my laptop which has a linux partition also and is booting with lilo. The original disk I installed S-Gear meanwile has been replaced with a SSD. I created an image of the entire disk, changed the disk and restored the image to the new one. Then I found out that my partition aligning was not optimized for SSD's and created an image for each partition, corrected the alignment and restored the images. S-Gear is still activated and working. Running the 'lilo' command for reinstalling the bootloader is normal for this procedure because the sectors of the boot partition have changed. GRUB might behave different in this case but this has nothing to do with DRM.

I for one can't confirm the mentioned issue and can't believe that S-Gear touches the bootloader. Windows don't even know about the linux bootloader. Sounds more like an issue with the encryption software to me.
Last edit: 6 years 10 months ago by hermano.

Re: A word of caution about DRM 6 years 10 months ago #1098

Well, first of all, you are using LILO. It's working differently from GRUB, and does not make use of what GRUB developers call "embedding area" (an area *after* the MBR, but *before* any partitioned space - usually Track 0, and corresdpondingly sectors 1 to about 62 (i think)).

Second, restoring HDD image would certainly have no effect on FlexNet in a sense that the FLexNet sector would be copied along with all your data. And certainly partition table realignment would not affect FlexNet either (given that you have restored your HDD image along with said FlexNet sector), because the alignment padding is going *after* the Track 0, not *into* Track 0.

S-Gear itself certainly does not touch the bootloader, FlexNet does (and, as i said, it doesn't touch the *bootloader* - it touches the unpartitioned space between MBR and first partition sector). I am afraid it's just how FlexNet works, regardless of whether you believe it or not.

GRUB behaves differently than LILO, and GRUB also makes use of that space, that is true, but GRUB is a bootloader, while S-Gear is an ampsim running under Windows. I can see a valid reason for bootloader to use whatever low level resources it feels necessary to make use of, but i fail to see a valid reason for a DRM to act like a rootkit (e.g. bypassing OS and writing directly to the hard-drive (thus making things like AV scan harder), especially in area that is *known* to be used by several things, including GRUB). There is no business whatsoever for userspace applications outside the partitioned space. That's what partitions are for.

Moreover, since i have installed exact same bootloader with exact same configuration twice (and installed S-Gear twice), and once it worked without a hickup and the other time FlexNet broke GRUB, it points to the fact that FlexNet not only messes with a HDD area it should have no business in, but does so seemingly randomly and unpredictably.

Again, just to clarify. I am not saying S-Gear sucks. Just that the choice of DRM is not really the best one. While thankfully it is not a dongle or StarForce, it certainly messes with people's computers in a way that can break other things.
Last edit: 6 years 10 months ago by Burillo.

A word of caution about DRM 3 years 7 months ago #10674

Upping the old topic, just like to say a big thank you to Mike for providing an iLok option! granted, iLok isn't exactly the best choice when it comes to DRM invasiveness, but at least it doesn't write anything to unpartitioned space, and i can now be sure that my PC will still boot after S-Gear installation or update.

Thank you, Mike!

(and as you can see, three years have passed and i have changed my mind about dongles!)
Last edit: 3 years 7 months ago by Burillo.
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