Hollywood studios pushing for secure, next-generation "digital home library"

Home entertainment today is often provided through a clutter of TVs, tablets, and computers, along with TV specialty boxes for yet more streaming video or music services. But some Hollywood studios are hoping to find better ways to deliver paid content to consumers directly to hard drives and flash storage, according to Cryptography Research, which is working on a futuristic project to do that.

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Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist at Cryptography Research, says his firm is working on this anti-piracy and content management project on behalf of a consortium led by SanDisk, Twentieth Century Fox, and Warner Bros., among others. These companies, part of the Secure Content Storage Association, have tapped Cryptography Research to try and come up with encryption-based technology that could be used to allow consumers to access entertainment content and create digital home libraries from a wide variety of sources while preventing piracy of that content.

The Hollywood studios, says Kocher, are looking to the future and they are considering local hard drives and flash-memory based storage, such as USB thumb drives, as important mechanisms for video where crypto functions would grant user permission to gain content.

"Today I can buy a hard disk for 200 terabytes and in theory that could hold a lot of movies I could buy," Kocher says. If this crypto-design project works out and there's no guarantee it will it would represent a new way that content providers could grant full digital downloads or just streaming based on the price the user wants to pay.

The Hollywood studios "don't want 95% of their market eaten up by piracy," Kocher says, but they face a slew of daunting piracy problems. Among them, broadband-cable content providers and satellite-based providers face continual attacks to break into their content-control mechanism, such as set-top boxes, he says.

Also, sometimes private encryption keys are stolen, he says. One issue is that encryption keys in content-delivery systems are often defined in software, not hardware, which makes them easier to compromise.

Another concern is that the activation and anti-piracy hardware for user TV set-top boxes or specialty boxes for streaming content is so "chip-vendor" specific that it only works for one or a very limited number of content providers.

A better approach would be to have multiple encryption keys for use by multiple service providers stored on a chipset, Kocher says. One example of this "security on a chipset" idea today has been devised by STMicroelectronics. Its next-generation STi7108 decoder chips boast a 3D graphics engine and access to external storage like flash and hard-disk drives for hybrid Internet/broadcast TV set-top boxes that let the user easily navigate between hybrid Internet, broadcast TV and personal content. It's not the way that home entertainment is generally enjoyed today, but it might be in the future.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail: emessmer@nww.com.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

Tags smbWarner Bros.security on a chipsetsecuritytrend microencryptiondigital home librarysandiskSMB NetworkingCryptography Research; encryptionHome Networking

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