The methods that prevent certain content and software from running on our PCs are called DRM, the most famous of which is HDCP, which prevents certain content from being displayed on a system that does not have the appropriate DRM chip on its HDMI interface. , but you can develop DRM systems that prevent certain applications and operating systems from running. but how do they do it?
DRM hardware to protect users to a specific platform
One of the biggest changes in recent years is software distribution, which has moved from being a store to online distribution. But above all, this change in distribution has generated a new economic model based on the following premises:
- The operating system is no longer a product, but an integral part of the system.
- Distribution is now controlled by the platform owner.
- The platform owner earns money through a fixed royalty or in the form of a percentage that is applied to each software that he distributes.
As it is obvious, the owner of the platform is not interested that the end user of the same can use other methods to obtain the software, so he has to add control measures that the user itself can not ignore, being the best way to implement them. through the material in the form of special chips.
How do digital systems control systems work?
Software that is distributed through digital stores in part of the code has a key that we can call a “seal”. When a hardware platform has a digital rights control system that ties the software to a specific store, what is needed is that there is a hardware that does so to check if what said user has installed said “Seal” or not.
The DRM chip is therefore located between the I / O and the system RAM, since the data will be copied from the SSD or hard drive, which is currently in the I / O, to the RAM. Every transmission of data packets and instructions from the running application or operating system is checked by the DRM chip which, if it does not find the seal, simply does not allow the program to be copied. in RAM and therefore prevents its execution by the CPU.
Thanks to this system, it is prevented not only the execution of some unsigned programs which have not been distributed through the manufacturer’s online store, but also the installation of alternative and free operating systems such as GNU / Linux.
DRM chips on PC today in the near future
The clearest example is Apple’s T2 chip included as standard in some of its Intel Macs, said chip was designed so that only Apple approved software and content can work on a Mac, but it is not. not perfect and the hackers managed to put a lot of effort into being able to bypass the restrictions even to undo the said DRM chip.
But the recent news that affects the PC world the most is the so-called Pluto, a DRM chip designed between Microsoft and AMD that will allow the deployment of PCs based on Microsoft’s universal platform. Something Redmond has been pursuing for years that may mean the end not only of being able to distribute Linux, but also the appearance of Microsoft PCs in which it is only possible to install sealed software from Microsoft’s own store. .
Pluto is the same processor that prevents in an Xbox Series X and an Xbox Series X that we can install Windows and turn both consoles into PCs. And while this is an AMD design for Microsoft, it is very likely that we will see it used by Intel in the near term. So if one of these days you find that you cannot install Linux on your PC, it is possible that part of the same processor is preventing you from doing so.
Microsoft’s idea with Pluto is to adopt the business model of Google and Apple where the operating system is donated and money is earned with royalties through each app, but for that it has to deploy hardware control over the computers that carry its operating system, which be offered free of charge to all assemblers, instead of using an associated license.
Why can DRM be legally implemented?
In the 1980s, the piracy of Nintendo’s Famicom console was so great that the Japanese video game company added to the Western version of the console a chip called 10NES, which communicated with its twin on each console. While the 10NES had a code that was sent continuously through additional pins, the console had the chip with the opposite value, which gave a sum with zero result and while that lasted the console worked but when only one 1 entered stopped.
There were companies that reverse-engineered and managed to duplicate the chip which ended in legal disputes that Nintendo ended up winning and with that the precedent was signed that the owner of the chip was A platform has complete freedom to control the distribution of software for it.
This has not been applied on PCs, but on smartphones where in general we cannot use any store except that of the manufacturer, and although there are cases like Google that allow the use of third-party stores. But Google can grab this precedent at any time to block third-party stores on Android.
Other methods of controlling the use of our PCs
Whether we like it or not, all of our PCs are monitored, because a good deal of the operating system services connect the computer through the Internet. Did you install a new device? Be aware that your PC must connect to the network to search for lps drivers. A new update of your programs? The same is happening.
What a lot of people don’t know is that our PC has an ID number, which depends on the processor and is one of three parts, the other part is the operating system and program ID. And yes, the various software companies know very well and remotely who uses pirated software and who does not use them, but those who have access to the administration of your PC via DRM chips are owners of a platform.
Thus, DRM chips allow them not only to prevent the use of certain unsealed programs, but also to remotely remove already installed programs and even to add censorship and usage monitoring systems. Unfortunately, these DRM processors are not on the board separately, they are a very small part of the main SoC.
And what about the old software?
We kinda think that software companies don’t want any user to always use the same version of their application for years. So far, the PC world is concerned about breaking backward compatibility, and so far Microsoft’s attempts to launch its Universal Windows Platform have been unsuccessful.
The reason for the failure is very simple, the user’s ability to choose, something that Microsoft seeing what Apple has achieved and especially what is happening in the world of consoles, decided to cancel for the future with the development of Pluto.
The next version of Windows may require a PC with a hardware DRM system that prevents installation of the previous two versions of the operating system and others, as well as older software that is not signed for use with the newer one. DRM chip. Obviously, developers can create upgrade versions to make existing software work with the new DRM chip and distribute it however they want in the new paradigm.
What about other online stores?
Damage to other online stores can lead to legal action against Microsoft if this happens, unless Microsoft itself reaches an agreement with them for their inclusion in future Windows installations. This is extremely important for games where there are libraries of tens or even hundreds of games associated with the Epic Store and Steam for example.
The only way to ensure that the transition to a pure DRM system does not collapse from the start is to allow the gaming market to have no problem using its games. In fact, both Steam and Epic Store are associated with software DRMs, which means that you only need to adapt the DRM control of the online store and its software platform to make all games compatible.
The problem is that this would force all games to be reinstalled again, as all references to the old software DRM system will need to be replaced with references to the new hardware DRM system. This will not only disable pirated copies in the form of repacks, but also games that cannot be updated by the developer.