Linked by Eugenia Loli on Thu 13th Feb 2003 07:23 UTC
Bugs & Viruses ExtremeTech runs a story where explains the measures Intuit has taken in its latest version of its TurboTax software in order to escape pirating. Except the DRM issues arose, the software writes on sector 33, without asking the user. On many computers, there could be partitioning information, or even important data on your alternative OS.
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I wonder..
by offtangent on Thu 13th Feb 2003 08:14 UTC

.. how many other softwares use such devious methods. Last time I uninstalled the 30-day trial version of a package called DNAsis Max, I booted up with the machine telling me that it couldnt read from the hard disk. I also have Norton systemworks installed, which was the first thing that came to my mind when all this happened (I've read stuff about norton messing up windows in many different ways). I had a dual-boot Suse 8.0/Win XP Pro with lilo as the boot manager, but I wasnt able to fix anything using the Suse boot disk, or the windows XP CD (recovery console). The weirdest thing: the problem apparently solved itself when I loaded BIOS defaults (unprotects the boot sector), after which it booted as if nothing was ever wrong with it. In the light of this Quicken/sector 33 story, maybe the software was trying to do something similar to keep a permanent record of some sort on the hard drive (It absolutely refuses to reinstall in spite of having cleaned the folders & registry manually), and it was somehow interfering with the boot process. Maybe having the boot sector, protected by the BIOS somehow prevented it from doing whatever it was trying to do properly and caused the mess in the first place.

I thought.....
by MH on Thu 13th Feb 2003 08:46 UTC

I thought it wasnt possible for programs to write to sectors of the hard disk under an NT based OS? I know NT doesnt allow direct access to hardware. I also thought NT only allowed access to the disk at the file and directory level and not at the sector/track level?

Someone enlighten me?

Someone enlighten me?
by Anonymous on Thu 13th Feb 2003 10:02 UTC

>>Someone enlighten me?


mu hahahhah h ahhaha

bill gates + drm

=

they decided to let 2k/xp write directly to the harddrive.

ok...i really don't know...but they are microsoft.

what they hell...they can do whatever they want.

Proprietary software is perverse
by Anonymous on Thu 13th Feb 2003 10:10 UTC

You can't even sue them because during the installation you agree to the EULA which says they are not reliable to damage done by their software. Clever!

RE:Proprietary software is perverse
by Anonymous on Thu 13th Feb 2003 10:11 UTC

Sorry, I meant liable, not reliable.

Reminds me of 3D Studio Max
by Anonymous on Thu 13th Feb 2003 10:37 UTC

When you install 3D Studio Max on a machine with a non-MS bootloader, Max destroys your bootloader. At least that's the experience we had with it - installed it on a Win2K/Debian box with grub as bootloader and afterwards the machine wouldn't boot anymore. When we reinstalled grub, Max complained we had to register it (again). After registering, grub was hosed again. Obviously, Max stores its registration information in the MBR!!!

That seams an incentive...
by Luis Ferro on Thu 13th Feb 2003 10:41 UTC

For using Maya and stop using 3D Studio Max...

In the past
by Richard James on Thu 13th Feb 2003 11:23 UTC

Some very ridiculous schemes similar to this have been used in the past. But they stopped using them, why?

Because users would choose a competitors product without the hassle over the copy protected product.

If your copy protection is a hassle you will lose customers but not lose as much in piracy. But in the end your buisness will fail as the competitor becomes more popular.

These things rise and fall

I thought... & 3DS max
by florian lutz on Thu 13th Feb 2003 12:29 UTC

max DOES not destroy your bootloader (we are using it at work, and i never experienced problems). I guess you are using some pirated version ;)

and its possible to write directly to the hdd under nt (think of partition magic)
florian

Use Tax-Cut
by Tim Barber on Thu 13th Feb 2003 12:30 UTC

Damn good thing I told my wife to buy Tax-Cut instead. It works just as good and still doesn't destroy the other OS that is installed.

Re: I thought... & 3DS max
by Shatai on Thu 13th Feb 2003 12:31 UTC

You do know that Partition Magic has you reboot and the actual work is done before NT is completely done loading?

Re: I thought.....
by KJK::Hyperion on Thu 13th Feb 2003 12:56 UTC

> I thought it wasnt possible for programs to write to sectors
> of the hard disk under an NT based OS? I know NT doesnt
> allow direct access to hardware.

"not allowing direct access to hardware" means that the CPU state is set so that trying to write into the I/O address space (e.g. the IN/OUT instructions of the i386) will raise a STATUS_PRIVILEGED_INSTRUCTION exception to the calling thread. The hardware, instead, is exposed as a number of secured kernel objects of the Device type, with the usual access control semantics. In particular, fixed disk volumes have a default ACL allowing full access only to SYSTEM and the Administrators group, and normal users can only access it through the filesystem. For example, try this, as an Administrator and as a normal user, replacing X with an existing drive letter:

dd if=\.X: of=nul bs=512 count=1

> I also thought NT only allowed access to the disk at the
> file and directory level and not at the sector/track
> level?

how could you write a filesystem to a volume, then?

Re: I thought.....
by KJK::Hyperion on Thu 13th Feb 2003 12:58 UTC

> dd if=.X: of=nul bs=512 count=1

stupid PHP stripslashes()... make that:

dd if=\\.\X: of=nul bs=512 count=1

.
by weeman on Thu 13th Feb 2003 13:06 UTC

I thought it wasnt possible for programs to write to sectors of the hard disk under an NT based OS? I know NT doesnt allow direct access to hardware. I also thought NT only allowed access to the disk at the file and directory level and not at the sector/track level?

If you run an application under admin credentials, it allows the app to use physical disk access a la \.C:

Myself I run under normal user. It's kinda PITA but it kept lots of nasty apps from messing up my system.

Re: Use Tax-Cut
by Chris on Thu 13th Feb 2003 13:37 UTC

Won't use Tax-Cut... They are partnered with Microsoft. At least they used to be.

take your custom away
by tech_user on Thu 13th Feb 2003 14:14 UTC


these arrogant vendors are assuming a little too much. these companies rely on people paying for their software to keep themselves afloat. so they _will_ pay attention when users complain.

why on earth should I pay for the privilege of having my computer broken?

honestly - i really don't know which fresher sales exec comes up with these ideas...

Good to know this
by Mark on Thu 13th Feb 2003 14:44 UTC


because I won't ever buy this product.

Turbotax, if your reading this, the only way I will buy your product is if you specifically state that this will not happen on the outside of the box.

- Mark

shouldn't do this but
by JJ on Thu 13th Feb 2003 14:44 UTC

One can always keep a dedicated drive just for playing with SW, even forever. It does require a reformat & reinstall so a ghosted install of a fully set up system would only mean file copy time.

Haven't done it myself ofcoarse but it keeps trial SW away from a critical multiboot system. This is even neccesary for SW thats free but doesn't like multiple versions of itself (like Java platform). And VMWare & VPC should make this a snap since I can't see how trial or unfriendly SW can't affect anything out of the sandbox.

Since I rarely use MS, doesn't apply to me.

Hardware solution
by Lazy Coward on Thu 13th Feb 2003 14:51 UTC

"One can always keep a dedicated drive just for playing with SW, even forever."

I use a Romtec Trios for this. There is one harddrive on the system just for software I don't trust on the machine I do my work on. It is isolated from the other harddrives, and the network if I need without affecting my critical information and programs.

Re: Someone enlighten me?
by Brian McGroarty on Thu 13th Feb 2003 14:56 UTC

It's not possible for normal applications to perform direct sector writes. The Macrovision system installs device drivers which run with kernel level protection, however. So long as you're Administrator on 2000/XP, you can install this class of software. Regular users wouldn't be able to do it.

i used to work at intuit
by anonymous on Thu 13th Feb 2003 15:26 UTC

.. i don't know about the sweat-shop half of the development house (where most still work in turbo pascal), but the pampered windows group doesn't know their ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to anything other than tax rules, programming included. My guess is the genius picked the idea up off a website and thought it would be peachy-keen so he could fulfill his goal of looking good to mgmt and get a raise.. guess that backfired.

re: hardware solution
by tvrg on Thu 13th Feb 2003 15:28 UTC

> One can always keep a dedicated drive just for playing with
> SW, even forever. It does require a reformat & reinstall so a
> ghosted install of a fully set up system would only mean
> file copy time.

this can hardly be called a hardware solution, or a solution tout court. This way you are preventing stuff to do what it's made for, which is not a solution to this problem
the problem is the software trying, and even though it won't work on your system, the problem is still there

Switched to Taxcut
by Sripathi on Thu 13th Feb 2003 15:52 UTC

Even though Taxcut is cheaper, I used to stick with Turbotax for backward compatibility and ease of use. Now I don't want to risk screwing up my computer and so I switched to Taxcut and its almost similar to Turbotax. I won't go back to Turbotax anymore.

Re: Someone enlighten me?
by Anonymous on Thu 13th Feb 2003 16:47 UTC

Yes, and your operating system doesn't allow programs to write to the boot sector? Must be pretty worthless.

pffft.. you guys just dont get it
by The PastyHermit on Thu 13th Feb 2003 17:37 UTC

And why are we running windows stuff? What is the problem here, I will never buy Turbotax, for the guy with Norton, serves you right nortons sucks anyway, its crap technology built on the infamous IBM hack of an OS now known as windows... I just sit here and Laugh... Windows Loosers

Re : pffft.. you guys just dont get it
by Anonymous on Thu 13th Feb 2003 17:50 UTC

Someone named pastyHermit laughing at others?

yet another reason to run Linux
by c on Thu 13th Feb 2003 17:53 UTC

all your applications will run with your user's permissions by default which would prevent them from doing things like this. They could always ask for root access, but after seeing these type of reports I don't think I'd ever trust Intuit or about half the commercial companies with root access on my Linux box. If they can't run in user mode I can find an alternative. Heh, I already have, but I'm not lazy like all y'all.

What if TWO packages write to the same place?
by Aitch748 on Thu 13th Feb 2003 18:20 UTC

If this sort of nonsense becomes more widespread, then other apps will probably also try to write "permanent records" in your hard drive's MBR or boot-sector track. You KNOW sooner or later one new package will wipe out the hidden data left by another one, and suddenly one program that you paid for that was working fine one day will on the next day either stop working or start nagging you for money.

Commercial vendors. Making life more miserable for computer users by messing with their systems in the name of stopping piracy.

Intuit lost its focus a long time ago
by Darren on Thu 13th Feb 2003 18:34 UTC

I'm a long time Quicken user (old MS-DOS days). There had always been a few bugs that I had hoped they would fix in future releases. After upgrading 3 or 4 times (up to 2000), I never saw usability improve. None of the bugs I had experienced ever got fixed. The only pattern I saw was an increase in liberties taken with my preferences and intrusive steps designed to make it easier to advertise and market to me.

Examples are ads that are difficult to turn off and my homepage on my browser. Now, (and because of it) I make it my personal policy that if a piece of software ever changes preferences I have in another application, defaults to "phoning home" or installs additional software without my informed consent, it's coming off and future versions will not be considered.

People say never say "never". So, I'll say that the likelihood that I'll ever buy another Intuit product is slim to none. Same goes to M$ for the same reason. Oh, and bye bye Flash and RealPlayer.

Probably an increasing trend...
by Mocker on Thu 13th Feb 2003 19:24 UTC

This is just another step on the path where "your" computer is no longer seen as yours to do with as you please. I'm seeing, increasingly, that the desktop system is becoming a battleground for competing companies which have the rights and needs of the user as a secondary goal. Spyware, DRM, advertising, and tinkering with the core of the operating system is becomeing far too common.

And, there's Palladium, where all of this crap will be built right into your computer at the lowest level.

Hopefully, the market will wake up and punish companies that push this crap on the consumer. Unfortunately, seeing how every other niche of our consumerist society has been jam-packed with ads (remember whe you went to the movies and didn't have to sit through 10 minutes of commercials?), rights grabs, and interventions by corporations, I have little hope that this will come to pass.

Let other know
by antonioAlejandro on Thu 13th Feb 2003 20:05 UTC

In this tiny forum, here and now, we can decide to explain to as many people as we can, what is happening to software. If it is not programs trying to hug your memory, its this kind of stuff, and there is more in the works in terms of palladium.
Am so glad that a year ago I decided to go into Linux. I have never looked back at this decision.

God
by Nicholas James on Thu 13th Feb 2003 20:17 UTC

And, there's Palladium, where all of this crap will be built right into your computer at the lowest level.

Hopefully that will be stopped, I am just tired of crap like this. Hey try out this free webmail http://linuxfreedom.zzn.com/

Quite a funny situation...
by Matthew Gardiner on Thu 13th Feb 2003 21:59 UTC

I've been laughed at for completing all my tax returns by hand, now it happens that the techno-gota-do-everything-on-da-computer people are now up shit creek with only a teaspoon. Ok, enough gloating from me.

Has any of you whiners and whingers had a look at Kapital from TheKompany? I've chatted to some users and they've said it is equal to many of the other packages out there. Now, if you're a business then you may want to give MYOB a try.

QuickTax - Canada woes too?
by jamus on Thu 13th Feb 2003 22:00 UTC

Does Quicktax (it's the Canadian version of TurboTax, right? Perhaps I'm wrong) suffer from the same crippling?

thanks,

Why they don't use USB dongles instead?l
by Philippe Houdoin on Thu 13th Feb 2003 22:02 UTC

Looks like cheap USB dongles are still too expensive to software editors!?
Messing their customers (systems) using alternate OSes/bootloaders could cost them far more, however...

C-64
by Darius on Thu 13th Feb 2003 22:09 UTC

I heard that back in the old days, companies implementing 'hard-copy' copy protection would destroy the 1541 floppy drives eventually. Funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

USB dongles might be ok
by Rude Turnip on Thu 13th Feb 2003 22:57 UTC

Because they'll put a damper on wide-spread (a la Kazaa) copying and leave a little room in the grayer area of an office sharing a copy (pass the dongle around) and not mess up hard drives.

I'm glad I read this article today because I was getting ready to buy a copy of Turbotax - but not now. My XP/Mandrake system is saved!

Forget about sector 33...
by Captain Chris on Thu 13th Feb 2003 23:09 UTC

...what about that man in Sector 7G?!

c
by RJW on Thu 13th Feb 2003 23:30 UTC

What do you use as an alternative, c? Is this some secret?

In Australia
by SmallStepForMan on Fri 14th Feb 2003 01:14 UTC

In Australia the government contracts out a company to create Tax return software, then release the software for free. Yes, its a burden for the tax payer, but how much more does this cost compared to the old way of lodging returns - printing forms and manually processing them? The US should learn something from others.

Ok ok
by MarkH on Fri 14th Feb 2003 01:39 UTC

Ok ok so i had too much faith in NT actually stopping stupid programs from doing stupid things.
The way things are done in UNIX/Linux/OSX (snigger) is much better-ordinary users can run programs but cant do any real harm to the system. Even if this Tax software was ported to Linux the sysadmin would know if it installed a device driver that accessed the disk.

myth
by dwilson on Fri 14th Feb 2003 02:19 UTC

Extensive profit loss due to piracy is mostly a myth. Companies will claim Z$ in revenue lost to piracy when all they did to figure this number is say Y$ per copy * X copies = Z$. This is completely inaccurate as the majority of pirates would never have paid for the software anyways. The only real revenues lost are the "casual" pirating revenues (Jim Beam needs to do taxes but doesn't have a program. His friend Jack Daniels has a tax cd. Jimmy borrows and installs.). These "amateur" pirates don't even know they are doing anything wrong mostly. However people that pirate because they can't afford it (college students, low income schools, etc) make up for a large % of piraters. They won't buy software just because they can't pirate it anymore. They will: A) Crack it, or B) pirate a competitors software. Either way the company that initiates DRM mainly stands to lose money from it because they are paying licensing to use a drm technology that is gaining them 0 sales (and in this case is actually losing sales).

from my understanding
by dwilson on Fri 14th Feb 2003 02:22 UTC

"Even if this Tax software was ported to Linux the sysadmin would know if it installed a device driver that accessed the disk. "

From my understanding it is better than that. I didn't think non-root users had system level access (unless specifically granted to them of course). In linux you can't run programs with permissions stronger than your own. Seeing as this protection scheme requires system permissions, and normal users don't have them, everything would work out fine.

Any good spreadsheet can compute your taxes, no matter how complicated. There is always
minor changes to add/subtract each year since the government changes things in the tax law,
but usually these items are the same thing year after year (example: the standard deduction
has increased from $2900 to $3000 for tax year 2002). If you don't like what TurboTax or
TaxCut (or whomever) is doing to your PC, get a spreadsheet program & write your own.
(As an exercise to the reader, see if you can make your forms output conform to what the IRS
specifies for e-filing ;) ). The spreadsheet I use is TurboCalc V5.02 on the Amiga.
Jim Steichen, author of AmigaTalk

Linux not vulnerable
by Anonymous on Fri 14th Feb 2003 15:01 UTC

Yeah more unfounded crap from the linux camp. First of all, in this situation, there would be no benefit to having Linux. In order to install this program, you have to be Adminstrator, and then it installs a device driver which allows it do to write directly to HD sectors. Guess what? You couldn't install this program as a normal user in Linux, just as you can't install it as a normal user in Windows. So any advantage you think you may have is just your in imagination. You can keep spewing all the incorrect information you want, but just remember, after a while no one takes you seriously.

RE:dwilson
by BR on Fri 14th Feb 2003 17:07 UTC

Um no. It's partly a myth because it's based on guesswork.
The "This is completely inaccurate as the majority of pirates would never have paid for the software anyways." doesn't really change the fact that it's a loss. Piracy is a means to cut the "authors" out of the economic "trade"[1]. The pirates benefit in some manner (economically is one), and the people who obtain the goods from pirates benefit[2].

[1] The "trade" is the exchange of money for goods and services that underly most economic systems.
[2] The person gains the use of something that otherwise would be denied them if they followed social,legal,economic principles which underly all societies.