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Windows Vista/7/8 Update Disables Safedisc DRM

Last month we reported that Windows 10 wouldn’t run games that employ SafeDisc or certain versions of Securom DRM. This decision was made by Microsoft in response to security concerns, but as a side effect rendered hundreds of old games unplayable on the new operating system without players installing no-CD cracks or re-buying the games via modern digital distribution services which don’t use the now-abandoned DRM.

Now Microsoft have released a security patch that also removes support for the Safedisc DRM from Windows Vista SP2, Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1. Check below for more detail and instructions on how to get those old games working again.

The description for update ‘3086255’ says that it “addresses a defense-in-depth update for the secdrv.sys driver, a third-party driver.” It then explains how it addresses that problem: “The update turns off the service for the secdrv.sys driver. This may affect the ability to run some older games.” Oh.

To their credit, Microsoft do provide instructions on the update page for how to manually turn the driver back on. This involves either typing commands into command prompt or editing the registry to make the change permanent, though Microsoft are still keen to stress that the “workaround may make a computer or a network more vulnerable to attack by malicious users or by malicious software” and so if you do turn it on, you’d do well to turn it off again once you’re finished playing whatever game you wanted to run.

To make the changes via the command prompt, run cmd.exe as an Administrator and then, to manually start the driver’s service, type the following command:

sc start secdrv

And to manually stop the driver’s service afterwards, type the following command:

sc stop secdrv

Whereas if you want to make the change via the registry, which will turn it on more permanently – or at least make it awkward to turn off again – then:

1. Click Start, click Run, type regedit in the Open box, and then click OK.

2. Locate and then click the following subkey in the registry:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\secdrv

3. Right-click Start, and then click Modify.

4. In the Value data box, do one of the following:

  • Type 4 to disable the driver’s service, and then click OK.
  • Type 3 to set the driver’s service to manual, and then click OK.
  • Type 2 to set the driver’s service to automatic, and then click OK.

5. Exit Registry Editor.

These changes should allow Windows to run the DRM file required by your favourite games released in 2003.

It’s difficult to get a complete list of games that use SafeDisc, but the total number would likely run into the hundreds. Despite causing technical problems even at the time, it was a popular method for major publishers trying to cut down on piracy. To see it killed off once-and-for-all may be cathartic, but it makes little practical difference given that it’s long since fallen out of favour anyway, and it’s cold comfort when its last spiteful act is to render many classic games more difficult to play. Hopefully it at least serves as a valuable reminder of the shortsightedness of many types of anti-piracy software.

Thanks to reader Bryan Gurney for the tip.

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Graham Smith

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