Trusted Computing platform, DRM coming to hard drives

Does Trusted Computing now provide security for the content providers or from them?

The architecture that Seagate's Willett illustrated for us makes feasible the following scenario: A standard API for DRM functionality implemented across the board by hard drive manufacturers, could be exposed to drivers in the operating system. This API could then replace a broad range of redundant, competing DRM schemes currently implemented in software, especially those from iTunes, Windows Media, and licensed P2P services such as Peer Impact.

In that scenario, the computer - or, for that matter, the DV-R or media center - would contain two roots of trust, with functionality split between them, distributed to where they can be most effective. "The two roots of trust have the basic building blocks of authentication, identity, and communication," Willett explained, "because you're doing signing, challenge/response, seed generation, cryptography. So between the hardware root of trust in the drive and the hardware root of trust in the platform, you first would establish secure communications. So we define a secure messaging protocol between the two, and then you're off and running. Once you have that level of authentication, then each command that's issued has its own authentication."

From the TPM's perspective, it may be as if no split existed between the devices at all, or perhaps as though the motherboard or STB firmware and the hard drive were the only two devices in the universe. Already, Willett said, media center PC manufacturers are implementing TPM platforms in their motherboards. As a result, he predicted, "you're going to see an interplay between the storage media - our storage devices - and those platforms. Whether they be set-top boxes, or TiVo, or full-blown media servers, they're all going to have this roots-of-trust concept, and this dialog, this split functionality between roots of trust."

The most logical place for content protection schemes to reside, Willett's argument continues, becomes the hard drive. "In the area of content protection, licenses and content [become] stored on a hard drive. So when you look at a full-blown content protection and licensing mechanism, and you have the freedom to use computation in the drive and in the platform, there's a very natural split. Some of the cryptography, or some of the license manipulation, could go directly onto the hard drive, and not have to keep going back over to the platform, back and forth."

This could conceivably change not only where the DRM is placed, but who places it there, and who controls it after it's there. Within this Trusted Platform could be the keys to the digital media kingdom; and now, even hard drive manufacturers are racing to be the ones to secure them. But to accomplish this, Willett knows, requires the cooperation of a body of historically non-cooperative parties: the content producers. "You understand how traditionally paranoid [they are] - from the content producers, to the distributors, to the content renderers - how the twain shall never meet, right? How vertically non-integrated they are?" Willett asked.

What would sway content producers to adopt HDD-driven DRM, argued Willett, is what has always swayed their opinion: cost reduction. Market forces will enter the picture, he said, along with increasing attempts by malicious users to destroy the chain of trust. "On the one hand, [content producers] are going to be looking for a stronger technology," remarked Willett; "on the other, they're going to be looking for cost savings. So content owners, distributors, box manufacturers, and renderers, the whole chain - are looking for cost savings and integration all the way along the whole lifecycle."

All of a sudden, rather than TPM being the device that carries forth the ill will of the content empire, a technological evolution could actually serve to separate the two parties. Call it a "functionality split," to coin a phrase, where the content providers may very possibly find themselves succumbing to the will of a simpler technological solution that, as both the providers and the manufacturers may discover, it may become too expensive for them not to implement.