The 2005 science fiction film Serenity portrayed a ragtag crew of space pirates fighting to unravel the mysteries of their galaxy.
Reality may now be mimicking fiction — Last weekend, a loose-knit coalition of hackers around the world defeated the antipiracy software protecting several high-resolution movies in the HD DVD format. They then began distributing copies of the films--starting with Universal Pictures' Serenity--using BitTorrent, a popular file-sharing tool.
The move could send the technology companies behind the new wave of advanced DVDs scrambling back to the drawing board to improve their copy protection, and prompt Hollywood studios to rethink their alliances in the war between the HD DVD and Blu-ray formats.
The HD DVD standard is backed by Toshiba, Microsoft and Intel and uses copy protection technology known as the Advanced Access Content System. The rival Blu-ray format, supported by Sony, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, uses the same system but adds a level of software that acts as a backup when the first level is compromised, so it is considered to be slightly more secure.
A spokeswoman for Universal, the only film studio to back the HD DVD format exclusively, said no executives were available to discuss the HD DVD issue.
The new intrusions came less than a month after a programmer calling himself Muslix64 announced in a Web forum that he had unraveled at least part of the HD DVD protection system. Muslix64 released free software that allows users to insert HD DVDs into their computers and make copies of those films without the original encryption. However, to make it work, users still needed a special title key, generated by the AACS software, for each movie they were trying to copy.
Muslix did not provide any title keys--in a sense challenging others to finish his work. On Saturday, the response came in the form of dozens of keys for movies like King Kong, Mission Impossible: 3 and Superman Returns, posted on Web forums like those at Doom9.net. At least two Web sites were created to provide lists of the keys.
Security experts said that the hackers appeared to have discovered the secret keys on their own computers--stashed there by WinDVD, a commercial program for playing DVDs.