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9/17/2010
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Intel Confirms HDCP Encryption Key Leak

The cracking of HDCP's master encryption key has lowered a major barrier to making illegal copies of high-definition video content.

Intel on Thursday confirmed that the encryption code posted recently on a content sharing Web site is the master HDCP key used to secure video content on devices with protected interfaces, such as HDMI.

Intel spokesperson Tom Waldrop in a phone interview confirmed that the posted code could be used to authenticate a device using the HDCP protocol.

HDCP stands for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection. The protocol is used to protect high-definition video content as it moves through consumer electronics devices, from Blu-ray disc players to HDTVs, and to assure that the devices handling such data are licensed by the certifying authority, Intel subsidiary Digital Content Protection, LLC. The primary purpose of such certification is to prevent unauthorized copying.

The availability of the HDCP master key will allow unauthorized parties to create hardware to play and copy Blu-ray discs if they choose to do so. While it's unlikely that U.S. consumers will be able lawfully purchase such devices, the situation is different in countries like China where intellectual property laws aren't vigorously enforced.

In a blog post on Thursday, Edward W. Felten, professor of computer Science and public affairs at Princeton, noted that the theoretical basis for defeating HDCP was laid out in a 2001 research paper.

Felton expects that the availability of the master HDCP key will ultimately have only a minor impact on consumers. "The main practical effect of HDCP has been to create one more way in which your electronics could fail to work properly with your TV," he wrote. "This is unlikely to change."

He says that while some manufacturers may be able to take steps to make electronics connect more readily, most mainstream device makers will continue to take HDCP licenses and use the technology as they have been doing. He considers the technology to be more of a tool for market control than security.

Waldrop said that making use of the HDCP master key is not something that Intel believes can be done in software. He said that he expects the HDCP ecosystem to remain intact and to continue as it has been, adding that Intel will not hesitate to avail itself of its legal options if an unauthorized HDCP device appears on the market.

Update:Story amended to reflect Intel spokesperson's comments after initial filing; corrected DVD player reference.

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