Atari’s Nolan Bushnell says Trusted Computing will Kill piracy

At the recent Wedbush Morgan Securities annual Management Access Conference Bushnell stated that he sees the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) stopping piracy.

Before we look at exactly what he said, here is a couple of things to note. First, Bushnell is also on the board of Wave Systems, a big player in the TPM field. Second, I reckon he’s wrong, or at least guilty of overstating the case.

He said:

“There is a stealth encryption chip called a TPM that is going on the motherboards of most of the computers that are coming out now.”

It’s hardly stealth, although it’s fair to say that a lot of people buying computers with them don’t realise they have one. Second, it’s not an encryption chip in the sense of being a co-processor to speed up the processing of encoded data. The encryption is more for protection of keys and other small chunks of data, and the specifications specifically warn that there should be no performance expectations from the TPM chip.

“What that says is that in the games business we will be able to encrypt with an absolutely verifiable private key in the encryption world – which is uncrackable by people on the internet and by giving away passwords – which will allow for a huge market to develop in some of the areas where piracy has been a real problem.”

I’ve thought about this, and it all boils down to “better than free”. In North America and the EU, I can imagine that Steam by Valve, the software distribution and licensing package that seems to be doing rather well, would do even better with a TPM to protect the licensing database. However, if he thinks that magically piracy will disappear due to this, I’m afraid he’s grossly mistaken.

A TPM can protect trial software distributions exceptionally well, as remote attestation can be used for activation and the protection would be feasibly unbreakable at rest on the distribution media, but once it’s installed on a PC it’s fair game. A TPM will stop piracy as well as dongles protect AutoCAD.

Remember, I am a TPM fan, but talking it up like Bushnell is here is just strengthening the erroneous impression that TPM equals DRM (Digital Rights Management) and opens him, and by extension the Trusted Computing Group, to ridicule.

On the other hand, TPM is excellent for management of licensing in the commercial environment, and I predict we’ll see a TPM-aware (and not just for licensing) corporate version of Microsoft Office long before Half Life-TPM appears on the shelves.

This story has been covered neutrally by GamesIndustry.biz here, and negatively (sliding down Wikipedia’s slippery slope) at Kotaku Australia here and Digital Daily here

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