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Image:Star force logo.png
Type Copy protection

StarForce is a software copy protection mechanism developed by Protection Technology.

Protection Technology claims that products protected with StarForce are difficult to reverse engineer.[1]


[edit] StarForce product families

Currently known official versions of StarForce include:

StarForce Pro 3
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.[2]
StarForce 3.5
Added support for 64-bit systems.[3] 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
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[4]
Seems it is just an evolution of 4.0. No additional information available.
StarForce Frontline 5.0 [5]
Provides a user interface for driver removal
Allows for the deactivation and reactivation of online-authenticated applications
FrontLine ProActive [6]
Provides DRM + Protection solution for web distributed games and applications. Disc binding replaced by web activation.

Protection Technology provides a driver update tool,[7] 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).

[edit] Protection levels

There are two confirmed "tiers" of StarForce protection:

"(...) It 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.[8]

[edit] Security

When StarForce 3.0 was released it marked a significant step up in the effort required to reverse engineer it.[9] Though its games have all eventually been cracked, the processes took far longer than normal: Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (the system's debut game) held for 422 days.[10]

Furthermore, the SF3-protected game Colin McRae Rally 2005 (among others) requires manuals to apply cracks to and, even after that, supplemental cracks to prevent crashes.[11]

In March 2006 a warez group 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 with complex virtual machine.[12]

[edit] Driver installation

StarForce 3.0 has received criticism for installing its own device driver onto computers along with the protected product,[13] 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]

[edit] Lite/driverless

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), and can also help to prevent online cheating.[citation needed] 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.

[edit] Clients

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

However, Ubisoft and JoWooD announced in 2006 that the North American version of their games would no longer use StarForce, citing "problems with StarForce's software".[14] 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.[15]

[edit] Community response

Some gamers have advocated boycotts of games or publishers known to use StarForce.[16] These gamers claim that StarForce software causes system instability and crashes, and that Protection Technology refuses to address the damage their software causes. 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.[17] As a result (along with a lawsuit[18] and general discontent on the web[19][20]), in Heroes of Might and Magic V and GTR2, StarForce 3.0 was replaced by SecuROM.

[edit] Removal of StarForce drivers

Uninstalling a StarForce-protected game does not remove the StarForce driver from the system; it continues to run in the background. 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.[21] The program is hosted at a third-party website with a link on the official StarForce website.[22] Instructions for manual removal have also been provided by the community.[23]

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.

[edit] Controversy

On January 1, 2006, Boing Boing, a popular weblog, alleged that StarForce was malware, citing several problems associated with the protection system, including disk drive performance degradation, weakening of operating system security and stability.[24] A month later on January 31, 2006 Boing Boing received an email from StarForce, threatening legal action and stating that the article was "full of insults, lies, false accusations and rumors".[25] CNET ran a similar story and received a similar email.[26]

On March 5, 2006, a Protection Technology employee posted a link to a torrent search engine for the results of the search for Galactic Civilizations 2, a game developed by StarDock which does not use mandatory copy prevention, as a demonstration of what a lack of prevention can lead to.[27][28] StarForce later issued an apology for this act after it received a great deal of attention on the Internet.[29]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ "StarForce copy protection to support the x64 bit user community". Retrieved on 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." 
  2. ^ StarForce Keyless Protection
  3. ^ StarForce copy protection to support the x64 bit user community
  4. ^ StarForce FrontLine 4.7 – new version of StarForce DRM system.
  5. ^ "StarForce FrontLine 5.0 – evolution in copy protection!". Official press release. 2007-05-23. Retrieved on 2007-07-10. 
  6. ^ StarForce Frontline ProActive for web distributed applications
  7. ^ Update/Remove driver
  8. ^ Game list - Boycott Starforce
  9. ^ StarForce Game Copy Protections- GameBurnWorld
  10. ^ NFOrce Entertainment
  11. ^ "Colin McRae Rally 2005 - No-CD No-DVD Trainers & Game Fixes". GameCopyWorld. 2004 to 2007. Retrieved on 2007-05-10. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Nate Anderson. "Is your game's copy protection system frying your machine?". Ars Technica. 
  14. ^ Ubisoft Dumps Starforce news from
  15. ^ Gamasutra - CDV Drops StarForce, To Use TAGES For Game Protection
  16. ^ "Boycott StarForce website". 
  17. ^ Ubisoft Drops StarForce DRM
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Starforce software removed from TrackMania: United". 
  20. ^ "Ubisoft Dumps Starforce (Note the heated commentary following the actual story)". 
  21. ^ "StarForce Drivers Removal". Retrieved on 2008-04-03. "StarForce ... has granted a sole right to distribute the StarForce Removal Tool utility to" 
  22. ^ "Official driver removal page". 
  23. ^ "How can I get rid of StarForce?". Retrieved on 2008-04-03. 
  24. ^ Anti-copying malware installs itself with dozens of games - Boing Boing
  25. ^ StarForce threatens to sue me for criticizing its products - Boing Boing
  26. ^ StarForce Response: reader comment from Dennis Zhidkov - CNET
  27. ^ Garnett Lee (2006-03-11). "Starforce Backstabs Galactic Civilizations 2". Retrieved on 2008-03-11. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ Copy protection follow-up - A Forum Post by Frogboy

[edit] External links

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