Google
 

Aardvark Daily

New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 19th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

Content copyright © 1995 - 2014 to Bruce Simpson (aka Aardvark), the logo was kindly created for Aardvark Daily by the folks at aardvark.co.uk



Please visit the sponsor!
Please visit the sponsor!

Clone killing software

23 September 2014

What would happen if your PC automatically downloaded (as part of its automatic updates) a driver that killed several of your peripherals stone dead.

No doubt you'd be pretty annoyed and expect some recompense for the damage.

Well that's exactly what's happened in the case of some devices which rely on a special component known as a USB to UART converter -- a tiny chip that is often used as part of the USB interface found in some peripherals. The most popular of these devices are set of chips developed and made by Future Technology Devices International, chips that have earned them a pretty penny over the years.

Naturally, such success has attracted imitators and even those who would simply copy outright, these very useful bits of silicon. Just as Rolex watches, Gucci bags and masses of other products have been "cloned" or counterfeited by low-budget manufacturers in countries with lax copyright enforcement like China, so too have FTDI's USB chips

To date, FTDI has simply been annoyed but accepting of the infringements of its intellectual property rights but, in a recent automated Windows Update operation, that all changed.

In order for these chips to work when connected to a computer, that computer must load and execute some driver code. The FTDI driver code has become ubiquitous and most of the cloned chips worked perfectly well with it.

However, it seems that FTDI have placed a soft-bomb in their latest driver that identifies any unauthorised pretender and actually renders it useless by some clever bit twiddling.

Not only will the non-FTDI versions of these chips no longer work on any machine running the updated drivers -- it will no longer work, even if you switch back to the older drivers.

Right now a fair few readers are probably thinking.. "well that'll teach people for buying and using counterfeit chips".. which would be fair enough, except for the fact that most of the time, the victims of this software bomb haven't wittingly purchased a knock-off chip, they've just purchased a product which, unknown to them, has that chip built into it.

There are some who believe that FTDI have operated in an acceptable fashion in effectively disabling devices that attempt to use their drivers to support counterfeit parts and it's easy to have some sympathy for their situation. However, the real mistake they have made is to reset the PID in those fake devices to zero, without any notification and without advising the user why their fancy XYZGizmo device no longer works when plugged into the same computer it worked perfectly with just yesterday.

A simple message such as "The device you are using is now unsupported by FTDI drivers, please contact your supplier for updated drivers" would have been a *far* better approach to take and would not have resulted in customers scratching their heads.

There's no point in FTDI punishing the end-user of these devices by effectively bricking them simply because the manufacturer opted to cut corners by using counterfeit silicon or relying on drivers they did not write themselves. Such a move only damages FTDI's reputation as a good corporate citizen and may, in the longer term, create significant fiscal harm. Already a number of players in the market have suggested that they will opt not to use FTDI components in future as a result of this latest situation.

So, if you suddenly find that one of your USB devices has spat the dummy and refuses to work -- perhaps you've also become a victim of this covert software-bombing by an unhappy manufacturer seeking to kill-off anything which uses its drivers without permission.

Please visit the sponsor!
Please visit the sponsor!

Have your say in the Aardvark Forums.

PERMALINK to this column


Rank This Aardvark Page

 

Change Font

Sci-Tech headlines

 


Apart from the kind support of the sponsor, Aardvark Daily is largely a labour of love that involves many hours of hard work each month. If you appreciate the content you find here (or even if you don't) then please visit the sponsor and also feel free to gift me a donation using the button above.

Remember, this is purely a gift, you'll get nothing other than a warm fuzzy feeling in return.


Features:

Beware The Alternative Energy Scammers

The Great "Run Your Car On Water" Scam

 

The Missile Man The Missile Man book

Previous Columns

Don't get too successful online
There are a lot of "fan pages" on the internet...

How clever is that?
Mobile phones... everyone has one...

Eco-upgrading your car
Most people think that modern cars are about as fuel-efficient as you can get...

FBI angry that encryption is being used
Encryption is a great tool for those who want to preserve their right to privacy...

Online security now just a joke?
Anyone who has been lulled into a false sense of security regarding the safety of their data or computer systems while online probably got a very nasty shock this week...

SDR, the new crystal set?
Hands up everyone who knows how radio works...

Penguins flying drones?
Drones are big news and "hot" technology...

Many a true word...
The rights of people all over the Western world have been severely curtailed by their respective governments in, what we're told, are moves necessary to fight a war against terror...

ISIS to weaponise Ebola?
Biological weapons have the potential to be so devastating and effective that they have been banned by international treaty for many decades...

Invest in newspapers? Are you kidding?
There was a time when newspapers were worth a lot of money...