Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sony's Rootkit Gets the Go-By From Australian Journalists

By now most people with a vague interest in stories about computers know that Sony tried to distribute copy-protection software with the characteristics of a rootkit with music CDs. The result was that playing the CD on a home PC would install the software; the software would hide itself; and it was difficult and dangerous to uninstall.

What's fascinated me about the story is that it had almost no play in the Australian IT press.

If I look at Google News, I find that this morning (7.15am, October 9, Sydney time) there are around 249 stories posted about the rootkit.

Filter the Google News to location:Australia and the number drops to a mere handful. Just how many is a little difficult to fix because small variations in search terms change the result, but fewer than 20.

At first glance, it looks like it got a run in most publications: The Sydney Morning Herald (, Smart House (, The ABC Online (, ZDNet (, Linux World Au (, IT News (, Australian IT (, ARNnet (

However, with only two exceptions I can see, the coverage was entirely syndicated, either from a wire or from international mastheads.

The locals were Smart House and the ABC. That's it.

Now, on efficiency terms, that might seem like a "so what?" After all, there's no reason to rake over the story when the US has already covered it, right?

There are three reasons to give the story local treatment.

1) Was the software distributed in Australia? If the answer is "yes", it gives rise to all kinds of journalistic fun, such as whether the software breaks the law here, what product liability issues may arise, and so on.

2) Sony's attitude to copy-protection has already brought it to prominence in Australia, where mod-chips have been declared legal by the High Court after a long battle initiated by Sony.

3) Some of the wire pieces were nothing more than press release rewrites anyhow, like the wire story saying "Sony hoses down hidden file fears" (a poor choice of syndication since by the time it ran, the patch it referred to had already been found wanting).

As a postscript to this story, the original rootkit discoverer, writing at, found that the software was "phoning home" after installation.

Now: Australia has many, many people who are expert in security or privacy, and whose profile ranges between media-savvy and media-tart. Comment was available, local angles were certainly available - only the media, it seems, were not available.

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