Blu-ray Security: A Cause for Concern?

By · Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Blu-ray SecurityBlu-ray is the preferred home movie format for consumers because of its amazing picture and sound quality. Movie studios love Blu-ray discs because they contain strong anti-piracy technologies that prevent people from making illegal copies of HD movies. However, recent developments have caused the security of the Blu-ray format to come under scrutiny.

It wasn’t long ago that DVD videos were the primary format for home movie viewing. To protect against illegal copies, DVDs contained a technology called Content Scramble System (CSS). The purpose of CSS was to create an industry-standard video disc format while also preventing users from making illegal copies of movies.

The CSS protection system was famously defeated in 1999 by a Norwegian hacker about a year after DVDs became available worldwide. In many ways, this breach plus the introduction of consumer-grade DVD duplicators opened up the DVD format to massive piracy. This enabled home users to easily make high quality copies of movies, which is a violation of copyright laws.

In order to make sure that replicated Blu-ray discs could not be decrypted or circumvented like DVDs, the designers decided to use multiple types of digital rights management, or DRM. These technologies include the Advanced Access Content System (AACS), BD+, BD-ROM Mark, and High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection, or HDCP.

The HDCP protection scheme was developed by Intel, a member of the Blu-ray Disc Association. HDCP is incorporated into many of the devices used by Blu-ray such as televisions, digital projectors, Blu-ray players, and home theater receivers with HDMI connections. It prevents digital content from being converted into a fully analog format, which could be easily reproduced by end-users without any restrictions.

In September of 2010, an HDCP master key appeared on the Internet, submitted by an anonymous author. Intel confirmed that the key was indeed valid, and suggested that it appeared the key had been reverse-engineered and not stolen or leaked from inside a member company.

This same situation was disastrous for replicated DVD movies, and resulted in the development of countless programs for compressing and “ripping” DVD discs. And yet, the discovery of the HDCP master key for Blu-ray does not mean the floodgates have opened, exposing the format to massive piracy. With Blu-ray, content developers and hardware makers can simply switch to a new key.

To make use of this key, a person would have to build an unlicensed device that could intercept and decode the encrypted signal being sent over HDMI and send the information to another recorder. Even for someone with the technical know-how, it would be a supremely difficult challenge to do this.

As a result, customers who watch Blu-ray discs at home will probably not notice any difference when the movies or their players simply switch to a different key. Therein lies the magic of HDCP: it is just one piece of a much larger system which has yet to be decripted. Unlike DVD, the discovery of one of the HDCP Master Keys will not spell the death of the format. To answer the question “Is the security of the Blu-ray disc format a cause for concern?” I would say that no, it is not.

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