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Archive for March, 2013

What Is Digital Rights Management?

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is a set of user access control technologies used to protect
the intellectual property contained in copyrighted materials from unauthorized use or theft.
Although DRM is widely used today, its history has been fraught with controversy. Although
record companies, publishers and other content providers claim it is necessary to protect
themselves against bankruptcy due to online piracy, its critics contend that it stifles innovation
and inconveniences users, while failing to actually protect against piracy.

In essence, DRM attempts to limit how a consumer can use a product after purchasing it. This
limitation can take the form of controlling access or preventing the user from copying the
material. This is typically achieved by encryption or tag embedding within the copyrighted
material to prevent it from being freely reproduced. Although this keeps users from copying
material and uploading it to file sharing services, it also prevents them from making personal
backup copies for their own archives, an activity which does not explicitly violate the law.

DRM can encompass many different technologies, from CableCard access limitation on cable
television to copy protection on music CDs. One of the earliest widespread uses of DRM
technology was the content scrambling system used in early DVD movies. It essentially rendered
all DVDs unplayable, except on players made by companies that had licensed the content
scrambling technology on their machines.

Within a few years, hackers had found their way to compromise the process and it was no
longer feasible. Although new DRM technologies have also come along, hackers are continually
working to crack them. Part of the limitation on media encryption is also due to legal limitations:
materials exported from the United States cannot contain advanced cryptography at the
level used by the government, because it would present a national security risk were it to be
compromised and fall into the wrong hands.

The main problem with DRM in its application is that it is not immune to hacking. Although
DRM prevents users from copying files to spread, hackers have sidestepped DRM technologies
time and time again. For example, the copy protection technology that was once commonplace
on music CDs not only prevented users from burning the discs to their own personal hard drives,
but even from playing the discs on their computers or in their cars in many cases.

Many consumers were understandably angry over not being able to legitimately use materials
they had paid for without any prior warning of its limitations, and hackers quickly found their
way around the technologies – which in some cases was as simple as marking the “protected”
discs with a black Sharpie. In the end, only the law-abiding users were inconvenienced, and the
law-breakers still found a way to pirate material. And in the world of peer-to-peer file sharing,
all it takes is one single user cracking a DRM technology to spread the material to millions of

Although DRM shows no sign of disappearing since its introduction in the late 90s, it will never
be perfect or beyond controversy. In essence, it bears the same limitations of measures designed
to control the smuggling of guns, drugs or any other restricted material – only those who abide

by the law will be restricted, and outlaws will continue to defy it. As long as there is money to
be made in pirated intellectual property, tech companies and publishers will always be racing to
keep up with the pirates.

How to Safely Clean Your Discs

Monday, March 11th, 2013

With proper care and maintenance, rewritable compact discs will remain readable for 50-200
years. However, much of their longevity depends upon how well they are cared for. Following a
few simple steps, it is possible to maximize the lifespans of your discs.

Although it is important to keep your CD-Rs clean, it is very easy to damage them during
cleaning if you do not use the proper methods. Remove dust particles with a soft, clean piece
of cloth. Hold the disc by placing your index finger in the middle hole and pressing your thumb
against the outer edge. Slowly wipe directly outward from the center. Do not swirl the cloth
around the disc or wipe diagonally.

If the disc is sticky or greasy, do not use standard household cleaners as these may abrade or
corrode the disc. Instead, you’ll want to use purpose-built CD/DVD quick-cleaning wipes,
available from a number of manufacturers. You may also want to consider investing in a disc
cleaning kit. Several good models are available from companies such as Maxell and Allsop. Bear
in mind that even if you exercise caution while cleaning your CDs, frequently subjecting the
discs to this routine will still cause damage over time.

While compact discs may be considered highly durable when compared to records and cassettes,
scratches will occur over time during the course of normal handling. Removing scratches with
normal home equipment is difficult because CD resurfacing requires the removal of part of
the outer layer of a CD. This can be accomplished by purchasing a CD resurfacing kit. These
accessories are produced by companies like Scotch and 3M and cost around $20-$30.

Obviously, there is a limit to how many times you can peel off the outer layer of a disc to fix it
before incurring further damage to the disc’s contents as well. If your disc is scratched but still
playable, you may want to consider re-burning its contents onto a new disc and starting fresh
rather than risking the loss of data integrity which can occur while resurfacing.

When considering options for the long term storage of vital data, it is wise to take the fragility of
CD media into account. While at present optical drives continue to support the CD standard, the
third generation (Blu-ray) discs are now in heavy use, making CDs very much a legacy solution
for data storage. As time progresses and the price of solid state media continues to drop it is
likely that solutions based on this technology will become preferred over discs for important files
due to the technology’s lack of reliance on moving parts. In addition, cloud storage is becoming a
better option every day for handling the archival of data important enough to keep of-site.

Recovering Data Contained on Damaged Discs

Monday, March 11th, 2013

If you have a collection of discs it is almost invariable that some of them will become damaged over time. If your discs do suffer from defects such as scratches, chips, cracks, spotting, or degradation, it may be possible to rescue the data contained on them.

Your first attempts to recover your data should involve a personal attempt to solve the problem. You may spend a little time, but it’s much more affordable to give recovery a shot yourself before paying someone else to do it.

A number of programs have been created over the years which help users of different operating systems to attempt to restore data lost on optical discs. These each work in different ways, but it is very common for very slow low level passes over difficult to read sections of a disc to be used to piece together the data puzzle. When using discs with physical damage (such as cracks or chips), make sure to pay close attention to the recovery process at all times as damage to your drive may result if a disc shatters under the rotational force of the process.

A couple of commonly used Windows programs are CD Recovery Toolbox and Roadkil’s Unstoppable Copier. For linux operating systems ddrescue is a solid option that uses a command line interface. For a variety of Oses (including MacOS) dvdisaster is available, and the bonus for this program is that it can be used as an advanced recovery method, generating data profiles on your media to allow you to have an easier time recovering if anything does happen to a disc after it has been profiled.

Many other options can be found at Wikipedia (some of the programs on this page only deal with non-optical media, so read carefully) or by searching the internet. When using any program, be sure to read the manual carefully in order to give yourself the best possible chance of recovering lost data, and to ensure that you are not attempting to do something the program is not designed to handle.

Professional services can restore from damage of a much more severe nature. Discs that have literally been snapped in half or otherwise shattered can be read by specialized labs. These companies are also your go-to solution when personal computer based solutions fail. Many major cities have businesses that specialize in data recovery. Your search for further assistance should start close to home to save on shipping fees and to minimize potential further damage which can be incurred when mailing discs. If you do not have a good local business, check online for options.

Actual data recovery fees vary widely by the amount of damage, the volume of discs you need restored, and the business you choose. Reputable businesses will offer you a consultation before you pay them. If the company you get in touch with does not, look further.

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