A European solution to the global software piracy problem

Software piracy is on the increase. It is a major problem and constant battle for the world's IT industry. One of the reasons for this increase in the global piracy rate is that the Internet makes it so easy to copy and distribute programmes. Now an IST research project has developed an innovative software protection system that it claims will protect CD-ROMs, DVD's and Internet software from hackers or copiers.

The ASPIS project's research also incorporates new 'watermarking' techniques for digital image, video and audio files providing additional copyright protection. These authentication techniques have particular relevance for the music, software games and multimedia publishing industries – where copyright owners are desperate to come up with new ways of preventing illegal copying.

It is difficult to quantify the effects of illegal software. But, according to estimates by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) , an US-based organisation dedicated to promoting online security, 40 per cent of all software programmes worldwide are pirated. A new report -commissioned by the BSA and conducted by forecaster IDC – predicts that a 10 percentage-point reduction in this rate over four years to 30 per cent by 2006, could generate 1.5 million jobs and increase economic growth worldwide by US$400 billion.

There are several initiatives to develop technologies to help combat software piracy. However, the ASPIS partners are confident their European solution rivals systems under development anywhere in the international marketplace.

'Very promising results'Research results from the Commission-funded project are “very promising”, says project manager Nikos Zissis, based at MLS Laserlock of Greece, an international supplier and developer of software protection products and services. This work has already resulted in the development of a series of innovative products. According to Zissis, this was key to the project's success. “It wasn't just about developing a prototype. There was already a strong demand from customers for the products,” he says.

The project's main commercial partners France Telecom and MLS Laserlock are marketing these products. The consortium also includes Belgium's Universite Catholique de Louvain (UCL)  and two Greek research institutes: the Computer Technology Institute and the Informatics and Telematics Institute.

Researchers from France Telecom and MLS Laserlock concentrated their R&D activities on, respectively; secure data access for the Internet and software protection for DVD-ROM executable and data files. Meanwhile, UCL and the two Greek research institutes focused their expertise on developing authentication methods, based on new watermarking techniques.

A range of protective measuresThanks to ASPIS' software protection system for a new optical disc (DVD-ROM)  standard, developed by the project partners, illegal copying of DVDs can be prevented. The optical disc contains a unique 'protection signature' – manufactured by a special laser glass-marking procedure – developed by MLS Laserlock for its CD-ROM protection system. The key feature of the new optical disc, says Zissis, is that it cannot be copied using any commercial or industrial CDR Recording Equipment.

The project's technical advances also included the development of a secure Internet connection – based on the extension of Conditional Access systems for pay-TV, whereby a smart card user has access to restricted areas of a web server. This is an advanced version of the France Telecom VIACESS system that distributes images through the Internet to registered smart card users.

In addition, the research resulted in the development of innovative watermarking technologies, using new algorithms and cryptography techniques, for image, video and audio data files. By using these 'state-of-the-art ' authentication methods, hidden from illegal copiers, the aim is to provide copyright holders with proof of copyright ownership.

The partners plan to present the new protection system at several specialist industry fairs. France Telecom's registered VIACESS smart card users are already benefiting from new secure Internet access features. MLS Laserlock is also offering its customers a number of new DVD and CD-ROM protection products incorporating key ASPIS' technologies.

ASPIS in action – Tomi demonstrates the technologiesTomi DVD, a multimedia encyclopaedia developed by MLS Laserlock's sister company, MLS Multimedia, is being used to demonstrate some of the ASPIS results. It features executable file protection, data protection, and watermarking of image, audio and video files. Firstly, explains Zissis, the customer, i.e. the publisher, needs to protect the executable file, to prevent the copying of the whole encyclopaedia. Secondly, the customer may want to protect the data files. Thirdly, the customer may require watermarking of the illustrations. “This means that even if someone, somehow, managed to open an image file and make a copy of say, a photograph, later on, using special detection software, we can prove copyright ownership.”

Zissis believes that participation in the project has benefited his company: “Our customers, mainly software games' developers, were already asking for the products. But, we couldn't have done this without the collaboration of key partners,” he says. Together they may have found a way to win the war against piracy and keep software safe under lock and key.

Contact Details
  Contact Name : ZISSIS, Nikos (Dr)
  Contact Organisation : MSL Laserlock International
  City : Thessaloniki
  Country : GREECE
  Telephone Number : +30-2310-907222
  Fax Number : +30-2310-937222
  Electronic Mailbox : zissis@laserlock.com