Interview coordinated by Tom
we were in Los Angeles for E3 earlier this year, we took the
opportunity of introducing ourselves to the representatives
of StarForce. We talked with them about their software protection
technology and it's application to the sims we enjoy. We asked
if they would consider answering a representative list of
member questions, and they agreed.
recall, we posted threads in several forums asking for your
responses. And respond you did! Over 80 questions just in
those threads, which doesn't count all the spontaneous StarForce
threads in several places around the site. We put together
the list and sent it to StarForce. Please keep in mind we
were not able to ask every single individual question. For
example, some were very similar and were summarized as one.
Also, StarForce has asked that questions which are hardware
specific be addressed to them directly via the links in the
interview. We hope you understand that there are literally
thousands of individual hardware/software configurations and
combinations all over the world, and that this does not lend
itself well to capsulation in an interview.
was to get you, our members, the facts and information straight
from the source. It is part of our commitment to you to be
the best simulation Internet site we can be.**We're glad to
be able to fulfill that commitment and present the information
to you now. We want to acknowledge the cooperation of StarForce
in this effort and thank them for their time in addressing
Issues and Concerns
StarForce have a higher track record of games not being cracked
than the copy protection competition such as SecuRom or Safedisc?
StarForce: We monitor the titles
we protect throughout their lifecycle, and keep track of the
protection successes and cracks. Although the protection strength
is always a matter of publisher's decision, technically StarForce's
approach has proved to be much more effective when compared
to other copy protection systems. We do have a solid record
of hit titles which have not been pirated ever since release
(take, for example Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (Ubisoft), Soldier:
Heroes of WW2 (Codemasters), Lock On Flaming Cliffs (Eagle
Dynamics)), and this is a very notable result. When the same
title is protected using technologies by different copy protection
vendors, the other protections get cracked, not StarForce.
StarForce disables certain functions of other software which
I have legally purchased, such as virtual drive software,
CD/DVD backup and creation software. It is not acceptable
to me that a protection system from one software program I
buy should have bad effects on other software I have on my
machine. In addition, it installs various drivers on my system
without my knowing what it is doing. I object strenuously
to both of these situations.
StarForce: The StarForce protection
does not contain any technologies to disable certain features
on commercial software by third-party providers. Our principle
is to prohibit launching PROTECTED software if we notice it's
being executed under a debugger or using any emulation tools.
Lately our Customer Service receives
has received some requests from customers saying that after
installing a certain StarForce protected product, the disc
burning software starts functioning improperly. The problem
with such requests is that those happen very rarely on some
specific software-hardware configurations, so it has been
very hard to even reproduce this type of problems. At the
moment we are doing a very serious job investigating the matter,
and any help from people facing such issues is more than welcome.
So if you have experienced anything of the described above,
please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
StarForce: As for drivers,
so they do not do any harm to the system, and as with any
other commercial software are a part of the product you purchase
as well as the protection is. You will find more information
on SF drivers below.
Does StarForce intend to introduce a better implementation
to the marketplace such that the scope of the interaction
of their product with the user's system is no greater than
the game (an application) that was purchased? Specifically
an implementation that will require no memory resident and
executing software when the game itself is not loaded into
StarForce: Many applications,
including antiviral packages, firewalls, system utilities,
etc. require a special driver to operate. The driver is required
to provide advanced functionality, which surpasses standard
capabilities of the operating system, for example, in antivirus
packages it's used to filter file system events.
As copy protection is a complicated
system as well, and operates on the low level, it's only natural
that it requires a special system driver. Protection drivers
are used in any advanced modern copy protection system, including
Macrovision, StarForce, etc. Sometimes, copy protection providers
use alternative approaches, like, for instance, system services
by Sony's SecuROM 7.
Protection drivers can be used in
either of the two cases: to prevent using the disk emulation
software (e.g. Alcohol, Daemon Tools, etc.) or withstand the
application's behavior analysis using debuggers (both user-
and system-mode). Like other systems, some versions of the
StarForce protection utilize a driver, which allows the protected
application to resist the most effective hacker attacks. There
are several types of StarForce drivers, each responsible for
a certain part of protection functionality.
Those drivers are necessary for the
StarForce specific CD/DVD checking procedure and anti-debugging.
In the applications featuring online activation the drivers
are used to lock the product license to the user's hardware
configuration. The drivers do not include any hidden functionality
and are active only at execution of the protected application.
It's impossible to launch the protected application without
drivers installed. The StarForce drivers are indeed installed
with the game and remain in the memory as long as the protected
software is installed on the computer. Unfortunately, due
to the drivers' architecture specifics it's impossible to
load drivers at game's launch and unload them when exiting
the game, so they remain in memory until removed (either with
the game or manually). The drivers take very little space
(less than a half of a usual driver size) and remain inactive
unless the protected product is running, which does not harm
the system. Still, we constantly improve drivers; the latest
version of our drivers is available here.
In the case where a developer goes out of business and doesn't
release a modification to allow it's software users to change
the limited activation's feature, would StarForce be able
StarForce: In order to provide
high quality and timely service, StarForce has developed its
activation module to be totally autonomous from the game developers
and the entire protection process, both technically and organizationally.
Adding activation does not involve modifications in the game
and can be performed by any tech. support person in charge
of this particular product.
Thus, to reactivate the application,
even if the developer goes out of business, end users can
contact the publisher's Support for another Serial Number.
And, of course, StarForce Customer Support is always able
to assist with this. Although it's important to remember that,
in order to protect the copyright, the person contacting Support
will be requested to confirm he is eligible for such an update
(legally owns the product license).
Has the StarForce copy protection scheme ever been cited by
security alert organizations for containing flaws which could
be used to compromise system security.
StarForce: No, never. StarForce
does not compromise system security. We thoroughly test our
technologies for security flaws and StarForce has proven to
be a stable and high quality product.
Several members have stated their objection in principle,
saying that it presupposes guilt on the part of the purchaser
in advance of any crime being committed. U.S. customers have
an expectation of "right to privacy." Therefore,
they feel that StarForce makes these customers uncomfortable
because it assumes that what they do within that privacy is
StarForce: StarForce is a provider
of the copyright protection technology utilized by software
developers and publishers. The technology itself does not
presuppose guilt on the part of the purchaser it's
merely a technical tool designed to secure intellectual property.
Let's draw an analogy. As protection,
locks protect your property from unauthorized use, right?
Does that mean that leaving your car on the parking locked,
you presuppose guilt on the part of your neighbor? No, by
locking your car you simply take security measures necessary
in today's society. Does the lock producer presuppose your
Today we all should realize that protection
is designed to not only protect the rights of software providers
allowing them to significantly increase revenue (revenue that
goes onto further product development), but the customer's
rights as well. Buying protected software the user may be
confident in the quality of the product he gets. On the other
hand, the protection is a guarantee that customers get clean
and secure product. Nobody can say what the pirated copy brings
onto your machine in addition to the software it says it does
(viruses, Trojans, etc.). How do you prevent the product piracy?
By using a strong protection.
Today we all need to understand that
software protection providers do not act to claim users' guilt,
but develop products that actually work for the end user's
Inability to make backup copies of StarForce protected software
is a big issue. I always make a backup disc of whatever I
buy for sake keeping, and I consider that to be part of the
fair and legitimate use of the product I paid for. What can
be done about this?
Is StarForce developing or considering developing the ability
for a user to make and use a backup copy of a game rather
than the original CD/DVD? I would not find the answer 'you
can get the damaged CD/DVD replaced via the publisher' to
be a satisfactory answer.
Is there any way StarForce could allow a piece of legitimately
purchased software to be run by the user without the CD in
the drive? Many consumers are worried about possible damage
to their CD and want to protect it.
StarForce: We have developed
the StarForce ProActive technology which is based on the software
license activation approach and does not depend on the physical
characteristics of the licensed media. The software protected
using ProActive can be delivered on any media or via the Internet,
as well as copied to any media, and the copies will be workable
once activated using a Serial Number provided by a software
publisher. Today, more and more publishers are using StarForce
ProActive along with traditional disc copy protection systems.
Traditional copy protections, including
StarForce Professional and Basic for optical media, feature
disc binding that prevents creation of product copies. The
license in this case is locked to the physical characteristics
of the original media. These characteristics cannot be copied
to a backup disc, that's why copies of protected products
are not workable. Though if the original disc gets damaged,
the end user can always contact product Customer Support or
StarForce Support for a "Rescue Key", which will
lock the product license to hardware parameters of the his
Several members have concerns regarding the warning on the
outside of the software package. While they realize this particular
problem needs to be addressed by software publishers, customers
with no previous knowledge of what StarForce is or how it
works are not getting fair information BEFORE they make their
purchase. The EULA is not adequate because you won't be able
to see that until after the purchase has been made. Is there
anything that StarForce can do in conjunction with the publishers
to make things more clear and upfront for the users before
that it is up to the publisher to list all compatible/incompatible
drives on the cover of the DVD case, I do think it is imperative
to say what copy protection is used (including the version
number). That way, people who do have unusual hardware can
at least check on a web site for compatibility issues before
making the purchase. I agree that once software has been bought,
it is usually (and understandably) impossible to return it.
StarForce: We would love to
see the StarForce logo on all titles protected by our technology
and do encourage publishers to put in onto the game box. But
we cannot force publishers to include it if they don't feel
it is appropriate. I disagree that it is impossible to return
software after purchase. All software retail chains in the
US, for example, do have a sound return policy. Of course
this has to be the original disc (unfortunately, still up
to 40% of end user requests StarForce Customer Support receives
monthly come from people trying to illegally launch the software
product, but such users are easily identified).
Drivers Vulnerability Issue Clarification
There was a security issue with
a previous version of StarForce that allowed access to what
should be protected kernel level space. What steps are StarForce
taking to prevent such problems in the future?
StarForce: The old version
of StarForce drivers did indeed allow executing code using
Administrator rights for its purposes. We would like to clarify
some points. What we see here is that drivers may be accessed
by any application. This application gets Administrator privileges
and is not hampered by OS security as it would have been if
being run with normal or low rights. This issue has happened
before with some companies, and it was never a "critical"
security matter (see here
Symantec has faced the same issue
with its Norton AntiVirus Device Driver back in 2003, and
the vulnerability was classified as "Less critical"
It is well-known that the overwhelming
majority of home users work under Administrator accounts all
the time, thus this driver vulnerability does not affect them
at all, as any application run will work with Administrator
rights by default. This is significant only for business
workstations working with common user rights. Going further
we see that there are no complex StarForce protected games
on business workstations, therefore this problem is valid
only for office computers that have business applications
protected with StarForce using the drivers (yet most of
the time business applications are protected without drivers).
StarForce immediately delivered a
patch to fix the vulnerability, and no application was protected
using this flawed version of StarForce drivers since January
2005. For the applications released earlier, respective updates
were provided by software publishers.
Specific Issues, Windows 32-bit / 64-bit
How will games using StarForce
on 32 bit Windows function in the Win64 environment? Does
the StarForce copy protection drivers themselves need to be
updated separately and apart from any actual game patches?
In other words must the consumer now keep track themselves
of StarForce copy-protection updates AND game updates as well?
If this is true, what does this represent for the future use
of games utilizing the StarForce copy protection system as
Operating Systems and drivers advance, and as Publishers stop
supporting older titles with publisher sanctioned updates?
StarForce: Many copy protection
packages require a set of special protection drivers to operate.
Due to huge differences in the architecture between 32-bit
and 64-bit platforms, the 32-bit protection drivers won't
work on 64-bit systems, ensuring that the game won't launch.
Like other systems, StarForce protection
utilizes drivers allowing it to thoroughly secure the game
data, and to prevent the analysis of the application's code.
Using that driver, StarForce provides increased defense capabilities,
blocking the hacker's attempts to tamper with the game core
by running it under a debugger. To ensure the x64 support,
the publisher should deliver his games with a x64 version
of the StarForce protection.
I have SH3 and I have recently
upgraded to Win64 XP. The present StarForce does not work
under Win64 XP. Do they have a 64-bit version of StarForce?
If so, where can I download it or does Ubisoft need to implement
a patch for SH3? I cannot play SH3 until this problem is corrected.
StarForce: We have released
a 64-bit version of StarForce drivers back in the end of May
2005. Get them here.
StarForce x64 support is automatically
included in the version 3.5 of StarForce. For the previously
released games the publisher should add the 64-bit support
by producing a special patch and making it available for his
customers. So once Ubisoft releases a patch, you will be able
to enjoy the game run on Windows 64-bit.
CD/DVD Issues and Problems
Are hardware incompatibility
with CD/DVD drives and burners, or Hard disks more likely
because of the way in which StarForce attempts to control
access to a system's drives,as opposed to a competing Copy
Protection scheme such as SecuROM?
StarForce: StarForce's protection
algorithms are more complicated comparing to approaches used
by competitors. They provide better security against software
cracking and emulation. Although, as with any software, better
security has to compromise with certain compatibility matters,
which is the case with CD/DVD drives. We do provide a solution
though: if the customer owns a drive that refuses to read
the StarForce protected disc, he should contact Customer Support
for a Rescue Key, which will disable the disc checking procedure
and lock the license to the user's PC.
Where to shall I address
issues connected with the protected products I legally own?
StarForce: If you experience
a problem running your legally purchased game and believe
the issue you have faced may be connected with the protection
technology used, please contact StarForce Customer Support
directly at: email@example.com.
Make sure to include your MSINFO32
file and the StarForce error report file (if available), along
with the detailed description of the problem occurred. To
receive the MSINFO32 file, please click Start > Run
and in the Open field specify the msinfo32 command.
For the StarForce error report, please click the Information
button in the Error dialog (it usually appears
at the game launch in case of a problem), and then click the
View Report button.
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