StarForce

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StarForce
Star force logo.png
Type Copy protection

StarForce is a software copy protection mechanism developed by StarForce Technologies (formerly Protection Technology[1]), which claims that products protected with StarForce are difficult to reverse engineer.[2]

Product families[edit]

Currently known official versions of StarForce include:

StarForce Pro 3 (developed in 2002)
Requires a "disk key" to be entered when the software is installed. This key is the same for all copies of the game, as it encodes the nature of the protection scheme as present on the master; this disk key is different from – and thus should not be mistaken with – the serial number which games traditionally use for online gameplay. An option to store the key on the product disk was added in later revisions.[3]
StarForce 3.5 (developed in 2005)
Added support for 64-bit systems.[4] StarForce-protected software that works on 64-bit Windows can be identified by the presence of a .x64 file in the software's install directory. Earlier versions would reboot the system or simply refuse to run the application on such systems.
StarForce FrontLine 4.0 (developed in 2006)
Fully supports 64-bit applications.
Fully supports Windows Vista 32/64 bit.
The first version of StarForce to pass WHQL Testing and be "Certified for Microsoft Windows Vista".
StarForce FrontLine 4.7[5] (developed in 2006)
Seems it is just an evolution of 4.0. No additional information available.
StarForce Frontline 5.0 [6] (developed in 2007)
Provides a user interface for driver removal
Allows for the deactivation and reactivation of online-authenticated applications
StarForce FrontLine ProActive (developed in 2004, updated in 2009) [7]
Provides DRM + Protection solution for web distributed games and applications. Disc binding replaced by web activation. Doesn't utilize drivers or other low level modules.
Current version - StarForce FrontLine 5.7 (developed in 2009).
Includes web activation suite and disc check suite.[8]

Protection Technology provides a driver update tool,[9] but it does not widen compatibility for StarForce-protected games. For example, to add 64-bit support to a game built before StarForce supported it, a developer would be required to create patches specific to their product(s). Now driver update web-tool comes together with every application protected by StarForce.[10]

Protection levels[edit]

There are two confirmed "tiers" of StarForce protection:[citation needed]

Basic
"[Allows] to protect the executable Windows file of the application and provide control of creation and distribution of licenses during the product’s lifetime."
Pro
"[Ensures] reliable protection of original data and code as well as control over creation and distribution of licenses during full life cycle of software products."

Some of the games known to use the Pro level of protection are Bet on Soldier, Pro Cycling Manager, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, TOCA Race Driver, Trackmania Sunrise, and ÜberSoldier.[11]

Security[edit]

When StarForce 3.0 was released, it initially provided extremely strong protection - the StarForce 3.0-protected game Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was uncracked for 424 days.[12] It also marked a significant step up in the effort required to reverse engineer it.[13]

In March 2006 the warez group RELOADED released a vast array of documentation about how StarForce 3 works. Alongside many technical details, it revealed how several resource-intensive procedures were implemented, such as virtual file system and functions protected within a complex virtual machine.[14][15]

Driver installation[edit]

StarForce 3.0 has received criticism for installing its own device driver onto computers along with the protected product,[16] which is generally not uninstalled along with the software[citation needed] (Peter Jackson's King Kong being one exception). Colin McRae: DIRT, however, both asks the player for permission to install the drivers and includes a help file with information on how to remove them. Though a removal utility can be downloaded, StarForce has yet to be advertised or provided to users anywhere within protected games.[citation needed]

Lite/driverless[edit]

StarForce 3.0 drivers are installed with certain older game demos, freeware and downloadable games, like TrackMania Nations. Their presence is intended to prevent crackers from using demo executables to help break retail executables (as the two will usually be quite similar). In response to criticism over this, Protection Technologies began offering a Lite version of StarForce which, instead of installing device drivers, asks for the original CD every three days. The lite version is also used in some StarForce-protected demos and downloadable games, minus the requests for discs or any connection requirement.

Clients[edit]

CDV, Ubisoft, Digital Jesters (now defunct), JoWood Productions (now defunct), Egosoft, Codemasters, Eagle Dynamics, Midway Games (now defunct), and Bohemia Interactive Studio have used StarForce 3.0 on some of their products.

However, following a campaign against the product in 2006 (see below) Ubisoft and JoWooD announced that the North American version of their games would no longer use StarForce, citing "problems with StarForce's software".[17] CDV also announced that they were dropping StarForce for all future games in May 2006 in favor of the TAGES copy prevention system, citing customer complaints.[18]

Now among StarForce client there are such publishers like (according to StarForce website [19]): 1C Publishing, Nival Interactive (now Nival Network), Mail.ru, Akella, Buka Entertainment, Game Factory Interactive, ND Games, Eagle Dynamics, Katauri Interactive, Cenega Publishing, GSC World Publishing, Russobit-M.

Community response[edit]

Some gamers have advocated boycotts of games or publishers known to use StarForce.[20] These gamers claim that StarForce software causes system instability and crashes, and that Protection Technology refuses to address the damage their software causes. In 2006, a $5 million lawsuit was filed against Ubisoft for using StarForce in their games on the allegations that StarForce compromises PC security,[21] slows down PCs, causes crashes and even damages optical drives.[22] However, the case was dropped two years later due to lack of evidence.[22]

Ubisoft decided to investigate the extent of the StarForce boycott and ran a poll on their forums, the outcome of which was against the use of StarForce.[23] As a result (along with general discontent on the web[24][25]), in Heroes of Might and Magic V and GTR2, StarForce 3.0 was replaced by SecuROM.

Removal of StarForce drivers[edit]

Uninstalling a StarForce-protected game does not remove the StarForce driver from the system. The StarForce SDK provides functions for implementors to remove the driver during uninstall of the game, but is not automatically carried out. An official utility program exists to remove the StarForce driver from the system.[26] The program is hosted at a third-party website with a link on the official StarForce website.[27] Instructions for manual removal have also been provided by the community.[28]

Starting from StarForce 4.0 it includes a removal service. This service automatically uninstalls StarForce drivers after StarForce protected product is uninstalled. After the drivers are uninstalled, the service uninstalls itself as well.

Controversy[edit]

On January 1, 2006, Boing Boing claimed that StarForce was malware, mentioning several problems claimed to be associated with the protection system, including disk drive performance degradation and weakening of operating system security and stability.[29] Tweakguides subsequently countered Boing Boing's claim, stating that there is no evidence of StarForce doing anything harmful.[22]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Archived August 14, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "StarForce copy protection to support the x64 bit user community". Retrieved 2008-03-28. "StarForce protection utilizes a unique driver 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." 
  3. ^ "StarForce Keyless Protection". Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  4. ^ 10.06.2005. "StarForce copy protection to support the x64 bit user community". Star-force.com. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  5. ^ 22.12.2006 (2006-12-22). "StarForce FrontLine 4.7 – new version of StarForce DRM system". Star-force.com. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  6. ^ "StarForce FrontLine 5.0 – evolution in copy protection!". Official press release. 2007-05-23. Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  7. ^ "StarForce Frontline ProActive for web distributed applications". Star-force.com. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  8. ^ "StarForce multimedia products family". 
  9. ^ "Update/Remove driver". Star-force.com. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  10. ^ "StarForce web tool for driver upadate". Star-force.com. 
  11. ^ Game list - Boycott Starforce
  12. ^ Todd Ciolek (2009-06-16). "Interview: The Return Of... StarForce?". Gamasutra. "Everybody remembers Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. It held for 422 days without a piracy crack. This world record for AAA-class games is still unbeaten and no other solutions managed to make a game last longer." 
  13. ^ "StarForce Game Copy Protections". GameBurnWorld. Retrieved 2010-03-12. "StarForce Professional v3.0 has been released recently and there is no known way to successfully backup games protected with this version." 
  14. ^ http://www.glop.org/files/rld-sfrt.rar
  15. ^ "STARFORCE.RE.TOOLS.READNFO-RELOADED". scenenotice.org. 2006-03-29. "Here is our little contribution to the reverse-engineering community." 
  16. ^ Nate Anderson. "Is your game's copy protection system frying your machine?". Ars Technica. 
  17. ^ "Ubisoft Dumps Starforce news from". 1UP.com. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  18. ^ "CDV Drops StarForce, To Use TAGES For Game Protection". Gamasutra. 2006-05-24. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  19. ^ StarForce Clients)
  20. ^ "Boycott StarForce website". 
  21. ^ "$5M Class Action Lawsuit Against Ubisoft for Starforce". 
  22. ^ a b c "PC Game Piracy Examined: Page 9". 
  23. ^ Smith, Luke (2006-04-14). "Ubisoft Drops StarForce DRM". Extremetech.com. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  24. ^ "Starforce software removed from TrackMania: United". 
  25. ^ "Ubisoft Dumps Starforce (Note the heated commentary following the actual story)". 
  26. ^ "StarForce Drivers Removal". Retrieved 2008-04-03. "StarForce ... has granted a sole right to distribute the StarForce Removal Tool utility to www.onlinesecurity-on.com." 
  27. ^ "Official driver removal page". 
  28. ^ "How can I get rid of StarForce?". Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  29. ^ "Anti-copying malware installs itself with dozens of games". Boing Boing. Archived from the original on 2008-12-24. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 

External links[edit]