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Appeared on: Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Laserlock MARATHON protection

1. Introduction

Laserlock Marathon - Page 1


MLS LaserLock International Inc. specialized in the research & development of software protection systems and Laserlock Marathon is the latest copy protection system from the company. Headquartered in Thessaloniki, Greece, it was founded in 1989 and has gained worldwide acceptance since having released the copy protection system, LaserLock. In this review, we are going to trial how effective LASERLOCK MARATHON protection for CDs is.

Laserlock Marathon Features

Laserlock offers protection against bit-to-bit copying programs, using a patented signature on the CD and enhanced anti-debugging and encryption techniques, which resembles a similar technology from the Russian Star force company.

According to the company, laserlock marathon, consists of the following features:

1. Sophisticated Code Encryption software.

2. Physical Signature on CD, made during a unique and special glass-mastering process.

3. State-of-the-Art Debug Prevention software engineering embedded in the software code.

Also, the new version of LaserLock offers protection that is non-generic as each protection package is characterised by a unique locking parameter that is specified during the LaserLocking procedure and provides complete protection against illegal re-mastering and reproduction.


For our tests we are going to use the Alcohol 120%, Blind write 5, Clone CD, and Disc Dump copy software programs.

MarathonDemo CD contains one Demo MFC application file (test.exe) and one folder (ARML2440) which includes two files (ARML2440 & ARML2440.IN). The method we are going to follow is to first create the image of the protected demo CD to our hard disk drive and then burn it onto CD-R media. Basic hardware specifications for our test are: Pentium 1.6GHz PC with a PlexWritter Premium CDRW.


2. Alcohol 120% Tests

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Alcohol 120%

The well known program Alcohol 120% appears to be the ideal candidate for testing this new protection from laserlock. Setting up the read settings, we use maximum reading speed and skip reading errors. Also we enable read sub-channel data and data position measurement (DPM) with high precision.

The program took a long time before starting to make the image, forcing us to stop the process and change read settings, leaving out data postition measurement (DPM). When we cancelled the copying process, the CD-ROM drive froze as did the entire PC, requiring us to do a hard reset on our system.

Starting over again, but now without DPM, the program instantly starts and reaches 97%. It remained at this point for an unusually long time. Hence, we cancelle our attempt once again. This may simply be a case of waiting for a really long time to finish the process succesfully.

Lets move on to Blind Write.

3. Blind Write / CloneCD Tests

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Blind Write

Using Blind Write v4.5.4.45, we chose to dump the image of the CDROM to our hard disk drive. We will be using the nibble extraction method with adapted speed of 1x minimum. The process started immediately, using the maximum reading speed but before the end, started decreasing little by little down to the lower speeds. Also, as the speed decreases, the elapsed time increases to an unknown limit. Again we decided to stop the process and change read setting.

Choosing multiple gaps and setting 4x minimum adapted speed, we started the reading procedure again, hoping for better results.

Same results with this attempt, with the speed decreasing little by little (below 4x) and elapsed time increasing. Lets have a try with Clone CD.

Clone CD

Clone CD is another well known and very usefull burning clone tool. Together with Alcoholer 4.1 profiler, it gives us the ability to change read settings according to our needs. We switched on reading sub-channel data and fast error skip, put intelligent bad sector scanner to 100 and then started the reading process.

Unfortunately Clone CD and the drive freeze at 97%, forcing us to restart the system and move on.

Setting "read sub-channel data" and "abort on any read error" on, as well as "fast error read" off, we made one more try with clone CD, just to see where the problem lies.

At 97% we took the number of the first bad sector, which was 323259.



4. DiscDump v1.10

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DiscDump v1.10

Disc Dump, as the name says, is a dump copier which just copies what it sees. Setting up the advanced setting to full index and max CD speed at 4x, we started copying, selecting the Laserlock disc dump method.



DiscDump starts its process immediately, reading about 690 kB/sec at 4x speed.

Unfortunatelly, it was also unsuccessful, hovering at 97%-98% for more than two hours doing cycled read tries at the same sectors, where it found more than 100 rings trying to pass the authentication rings.

5. Conclusion

Laserlock Marathon - Page 4


The Laserlock Marathon Demo CD demonstrated a strong copy protection method. The basic principle is in the authentication rings located on the outer edge of the CD, which didn`t allow the copy process to finish. The majority of the clone burning programs were unsuccessful for this reason. With Clone CD and Disc Dump, we observed that the first bad sector was at 323259. At this point, the reading process behaved in a strange way, reading the same sectors many times, moving on and then going back to do the same again and again, having a really slow reading speed of less than 1x.

MLS uses a large number of rings on the outer side of the CD where they enforce a cycled reading procedure between specific sectors and then spinning down the motor of the drive as there are data errors causing cyclic redundancy checks. Hence, reading can`t pass the specific sectors and therefore cannot finish the copy procedure.

There is a possibility that the Marathon protection scheme can be cracked, by running an ink marker round the outer edge of the CD, thus by-passing it's protection, but this probably won`t work because the physical signature on the CD should not be lost as the executable file is going to check for it, and if that is not the case, copiers have a large area full of errors on the CD to copy, which means that they are going to need a long time for one copy.

Laserlock recommends the locking process be carried out at their company's labs, where they "inject" the laserlock system in the main executable file, producing a new protected executable file that contains the original and the laserlock system. The Laserlock system occupies an extra 20 MB for CDs and 35 MB for DVDs. This method is recommended by MLS and does not require any additional programming from the customer. Nowadays, MLS lacerlock cooperates with many of the CD-ROM manufacturing companies globally, like Sonopress, MPO, Saturn, Media Solutions e.t.c.

There is one question regarding protected CDs that we would like to pose. While it is certainly illegal to make copies for redistribution, it is not necessarily illegal to make backups for safe keeping (should the original be damaged or produce errors due to use). In this case, there is no way for the owner of the disc to bypass the Laserlock protection scheme.



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