How much does it cost to crack Blu-ray encryption? Not much, apparently: Researchers at the Secure Hardware Group of Germany's Ruhr University of Bochum (RUB) have cracked Intel’s encryption protocol protecting Blu-ray discs and other HD media using a $267 custom board.
When you watch a Blu-ray on your TV or computer, Intel’s High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) protocol is there to encrypt and copy-protect the HD channel. The entertainment industry has used the protocol for nearly a decade to prevent users from copying and pirating movies and games. The technology also found its way to any display that uses a DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort and other connections.
Hackers cracked the HDCP master key in September 2010; at the time, Intel wrote it off as a minor threat, as a person would have to "make a computer chip of their own" to actually use the code, according to Fox News. Well, the RUB researchers found another way.
To crack Intel’s HDCP encryption, the researchers used a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack with an inexpensive field programmable gate array (FPGA) board. The build used an ATLYS board from Digilent, a HDMI port equipped Xilinx Spartan-6 FPGA, and a serial RS232 port for communication. The board was able to manipulate and decode the communication between the Blu-ray player and the HDTV without being detected.
There may be legal implications to circumventing copyright protection, but the researchers' intent was never to create a pirating process, because the pirates already have figured out much simpler methods.
“Rather, our intention was to fundamentally investigate the safety of the HDCP system and to financially assess the actual cost for the complete knockout,” said Tim Güneysu, a professor of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at RUB, in a press release. “The fact that we have achieved our goal in a degree thesis and with material costs of approximately 200 Euro[s] definitely does not speak for the safety of the current HDCP system.”