Four firms pitch hi-def DRM for Flash cards

Next-generation Secure Memory, anyone?


Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba have begun licensing their new DRM technology for memory cards to anyone who feels the world needs yet another copy protection technology for HD content. They hope many content providers do indeed want a new DRM system, specifically one that secures content but doesn’t prevent content consumers from moving files from device to device, and even lending content to others.

This is a square consumers have wanted to see circled for some time. For most folk, the real flaw with DRM is not copy prevention but the way the technology ties content to specific devices or platforms. A movie downloaded from Apple’s iTunes can’t be played on a TV without the presence of extra Apple-made kit, for instance, and it certainly can’t be copied to an Android tablet or a Windows phone.

Transferring the file directly to a friend’s PC or to an intermediate location such as a network-attached storage device is easy, but the film can’t be viewed unless the viewer signs into iTunes in the guise of the original downloader, which requires an internet connection, at least at the time for signing in.

Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba claim their system overcomes all these limitations. The technology is called SeeQVault (SQV) and it’s being touted by the Next Generation Secure Memory Initiatives - NSM for short - a firm founded by the aforementioned four to license their jointly developed DRM scheme. SQV was originally backed by SanDisk too, but it has since pulled out, according to NSM’s list of members.

NSM and its parents see SQV as a means of enabling SD cards and other Flash-based storage - though they also see a role in hard drives and other, more traditional forms of storage - as secure and portable file stores of licensed content, whether it’s material downloaded from an online shop or even ‘taped’ off telly on a DVR.

SeeQVault usage

Secure download storage
Source: NSM

The notion is to make it easy for punters to move content around from device to device at will, while at the same time making the material stored impossible to rip, to keep the content providers happy.

“SQV-enabled memory and devices will allow the storage and playback of premium HD content across multiple devices with or without internet connectivity,” claims NSM. “With SQV-enabled Flash drives, SD cards, HDD and other media, consumers will be able to move HD content across their various devices in a secure key-managed environment that provides dynamic flexibility for content consumption while offering superior intellectual property protection.”

In plain English, that means a copy protection mode that keeps content secure without unreasonably limiting where and when the encrypted content is moved to. NSM’s approach is to lock the content to the medium rather than the host devices, allowing you to lend a friend a film to watch, just as you might pass them a DVD or Blu-ray, but in a way that prevents them from copying the content to keep. Flexible playback, which still requires player apps to be equipped with suitable authentication keys, and no need for online authentication should also calm fears about that other aspect of DRM: that content providers can stop you accessing content you’ve legitimately acquired.

NSM specifies two content storage formats: MP4 for discrete audio and video entities - copied downloads and ‘pre-recorded’ content - and MPEG 4 TS (Transport Stream) for recording content on DVRs and such. When the resulting file or data takes up more space than a storage device’s file system allows - for example, FAT 32’s 4GB limit - NSM advocates segmenting the content into multiple files.

A device doesn’t need to support NSM natively to play back licensed content, but if it doesn’t it has to be able to host third-party apps that are. This, says NSM, also makes the format a candidate for distributing ‘pre-recorded’ content - say a digital copy of a movie you’re buying on Blu-ray, there in the box. Or to allow SD to be pitched as an alternative to optical disc formats, whether bought off the shelf or spat out to order by a vending machine.

A card’s controller IC and its memory both need separate, unique NSM Secure IDs which are applied to the storage at manufacture, along with the media key information. These IDs and keys are combined and sent through the “secure authenticated channel” to the host and only when they are confirmed as legitimate can playback begin.

SeeQVault card security layers

Layered security
Source: NSM

“Our multi-layer security system provides a more robust anti-cloning technology against unauthorised copying than existing content protection systems,” the NSM claims “By means of the secure authenticated channel, any malicious alteration of the information is prevented. The Secure IDs retained in the Licensed Media are managed only by trustable entities. Any sensitive information is never disclosed to non-compliant and non-trusted entities in the transaction. Furthermore, cloned media cannot be produced even by the information which a compliant Licensed Host Device can retrieve.”

Since much of the content set to be stored on NSM-compatible storage will come from the internet, it’s not unreasonable to wonder why the content industry needs NSM when initiatives like UltraViolet aim to deliver content usage flexibility through download and streaming, and by enabling multiple ownership of a single piece of content.

NSM argues that there’s still a window for physical media. Cloud-based streaming services are, it reckons, a few years away at least, especially for HD content to be consumed on the move. The capacity of mobile networks is too low and the cost too high for most punters to stream HD content by that path. The result, says the NSM, is an ongoing need for storage media capable of securely holding downloaded premium content.

Indeed, it says, NSM technology provides a secure storage for files downloaded from services like UltraViolet, useful for years before mobile networks and broadband can happily cope with a colossal number of HD streams and we don’t need to bother downloading anything any more.

Of course, it will be some time before we can see whether NSM DRM is as consumer-friendly as the company claims it is - or, indeed, whether it’s as secure as it’s promised to be. There will certainly be plenty of techies to put it security to the test. NSM has only just made its technology available for licensing, and there’s not yet any NSM-compatible storage out there. Toshiba has promised 16GB and 32GB NSM-compatible Micro SD cards. While these will be available in sample quantities at the end of next month, the company may not bring them to market until the end of 2013. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022