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.

49 Comments

  1. Scythe says:

    Alternative technique: Start -> Run -> “services.msc”.

    Find Secdrv in the list, right click, properties. From here you can start and stop the service, as well as controlling if it automatically starts.

  2. FreeTom says:

    Sigh.

    Customers: We’re not upgrading to Win10 because it breaks stuff.

    MS: Well, we could fix Win10 but let’s think laterally here…

    • Solidstate89 says:

      Microsoft is disabling DRM to fix a security hole it causes in their operating system and thus making it more secure to use.

      There’s nothing about any of this that anyone should be against. Your narrative is incomprehensibly ridiculous.

      • FreeTom says:

        Your narrative is incomprehensibly ridiculous
        HAHAHAHA brilliant.

      • Premium User Badge

        Don Reba says:

        You know what Ben Franklin thought about security patches that break stuff, right?

    • Amstrad says:

      SafeDisc and Securrom bypass normal security functions built in to Windows that would normally prevent malicious software from running. This isn’t a Microsoft problem. It’s a poorly conceived DRM problem.

      • FreeTom says:

        Hmm, fair enough. Nonetheless, it’s a lapse in end-user functionality that I can’t help feeling wouldn’t have been backported were it not for the “but it works on old Windows” factor.

        • Nereus says:

          The DRM was a lapse in end user functionality to begin with. I am no fan of what Microsoft have done with W10, but blame should be placed squarely on companies deliberately inconveniencing consumers in effort to marginally slow down piracy rates during release week.

        • Premium User Badge

          phuzz says:

          If they didn’t backport it it then the headline would be “Microsoft refuses to release security patch for older versions of Windows”.
          Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

      • SIDD says:

        “This isn’t a Microsoft problem. It’s a poorly conceived DRM problem.”

        It is very much a Microsoft problem … They had the power to put their foot down when e.g. SecuRom was introduced as it was in every conceivable way a bad idea poorly implemented; very few to none of their consumers wanted it and this was very much brought to their attention hence they can’t exactly claim ignorance.

        Addressing it as a “security concern” now is 7-8 years too late.

        • Emeraude says:

          I think the fastest way to sum it up is: we’re not really Microsoft’s customers, we’re its product, sold to other big companies. They used to be – barely – more discreet about that, but with Win10 being what it is, I think they’ve come around and decided it was perfectly fair and acceptable to say nowadays.

          So *your* security breach didn’t matter as long as other big companies wanted it to be there and Microsoft could get away with it. Now that those companies have moved to new solutions, the problem can be mended.

      • Premium User Badge

        RaveTurned says:

        They bypasses those security functions by design, don’t they? Which makes the design of those systems inherently insecure. yet Microsoft have allowed this stuff on their earlier OSes for years.

        Why are they only clamping down on it now? Why didn’t they shut this shit down back in 2007 when so many publishers were deciding this was a good idea?

        • Premium User Badge

          RaveTurned says:

          The lack of an edit button strikes again. Note to self: proofread your comments, dingus.

        • LimEJET says:

          Because back in 2007, many publishers thought it was a great idea.

          “Hey, everyone is using this badly coded piece of software that gets us masses of revenue by proxy, should we disable it from running?”

    • eggy toast says:

      More accurately,

      Microsoft: This whole group of programs are horrible and we are purging them as we update the world to Win10
      The World: But we don’t want to update to an advertisement supported operating system
      Microsoft: Fine well we are still purging this stupid shit

      • SuicideKing says:

        Better late than never, I suppose. I’m all for purging stupid shit.

  3. DThor says:

    I see this as a good thing, like when they finally implemented UAC to the disgust and rage of XP users everywhere. I can’t imagine wanting to play an old game so badly that I would be allowing dangerous crap like this copy pro to run. At least there’s a workaround for those that are behind a wall and want to make their own risk decisions, for better or worse. Win-win.

  4. Apocalypse 31 says:

    I’m wondering if this is why my CC Generals suddenly stopped working.

    Also, I get an error when I try using ‘sc start secdrv’ in the CMD prompt.says no programs are running. Any help?

    I just want to play CCG.

    • Siimon says:

      open the cmd prompt as administrator.

    • Apocalypse 31 says:

      I ran it as administrator.

      • Apocalypse 31 says:

        Got it working.

        Here’s the ironic part: I have to use a no-cd hack to get it working. So now, I’m the pirate. How ironic is this!?

        • WolvenSpectre says:

          Technically it isn’t piracy, it is Copyright Protection Circumvention, ie breaking DRM, so more safecracker or cat burglar than peg leg, eye patch and parrot.

  5. Dread Quixadhal says:

    Good for Microsoft!

    When a game wants to install a device driver that intercepts disk activity for DRM purposes, that company needs to be purged by fire, not given money as a reward for breaking the security of your computer in a pointless attempt to stop piracy.

    DRM has never worked. I still remember the famous example of Archon for the C64. Apparently, the CEO of EA at that time was giving a speech about how great their new copy protection was, and how it would take months for anyone to break it. During the speech, pirated copies of Archon were being handed out to the audience…

  6. Skeletor68 says:

    Still waiting on a fix for the screen brightness controls breaking. Also seems to have caused issue with Diablo 3.

    I’ll need to try beta catalyst drivers.

  7. peterako1989 says:

    well, they like disabling stuff on older OSs, but they wont let us play rise of the tomb raider beyond win10 or any other MS specific games. Much appreciated MS!

  8. The_invalid says:

    Honestly, I think this is a damn good idea. It’s a bold move by MS, but I’m glad they’re doing it. DRM that roots your system is never a good idea, and I’m glad they’re deciding to take measures against it, even if it does mean I have to crack some older games (that I probably would have cracked anyway honestly)

    • Ieolus says:

      It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for ’em.

    • EhexT says:

      No it’s not a bold move by MS. You know what a bold move by MS would have been? Saying no to Securom when they told them “we’ll implement DRM that undermines all your security, are you ok with that?” ten years ago instead of yes.

  9. Premium User Badge

    RaveTurned says:

    Conflicted. On the one hand, Microsoft is killing shitty DRM systems – great! On the other hand, consumers who bought legal copies of games using those systems won’t be able to run them anymore – not just on a new OS, but on the old systems that used to run them just fine.

    (OK fine, they can run them if they are technically savvy enough to follow the workaround or if they download an illegal crack to bypass it. Neither solution there is ideal IMO, but I digress.)

    It’s that backporting part that seems pretty shitty. Killing that DRM with fire might have been the right thing to do and I can totally see why they wouldn’t want to support it, but to do nothing about it for years and then yank the carpet from underneath people who bought those products in good faith seems like a dick move.

  10. Pich says:

    I can’t believe there’s people actually arguing in defense of DRM.

    • Apocalypse 31 says:

      I just want to play CC Generals.

      I own the disk and I’ve played it for 10+ years.

      • Great Cthulhu says:

        Sure. But presumably you also don’t want ransomware on your system. That would also prevent you from playing Generals, though it would be the least of your worries.

        This driver is a very serious security hole, and needs to be plugged. If that means that I will no longer be able to use several dozen of my old game discs (according to a quick google check), that totally sucks, but it still needs to happen.

    • draglikepull says:

      DRM is bullshit, but so is an OS update that breaks peoples’ ability to use software they’ve purchased years after the fact.

      • subedii says:

        Yeah it’s kind of sketchy to say that. I mean either SecuROM was a security breach or it wasn’t. If it was, they literally didn’t give a crap about it for a solid decade.

        It’s not like this is a sudden discovery. The right time to shut it down was back when it was first giving itself Ring 0 access. I can’t really understand their thinking here.

      • Faxmachinen says:

        I disagree. If you don’t want to take the risk of making your old software unusable, don’t upgrade. All software is flawed, and therefore infinite future support is not guaranteed.

    • EhexT says:

      People are arguing against praise of Microsoft. Because they don’t deserve any for this. They allowed Securom to open this security hole in the first place. Now some people are acting like they’re heroes for closing it again.

  11. Spuzzell says:

    I routinely patch disc installed games to avoid having to put the disc in the drive every time anyway, have done for years.

    Steam has spoiled us.

  12. Rao Dao Zao says:

    Couldn’t they at least have put in a dummy wrapper that just replies “yes this is a legitimate copy” to everything? That’d let people still play the old games AND kill the security hole.

    This is where somebody more knowledgeable tells me “it’s not that simple”… Sigh. :(

    • LionsPhil says:

      I imagine the complexity with that is legal, since it would be tantamount to Microsoft releasing a no-CD crack for all Safedisc games.

  13. Syra says:

    Hey RPS – I’m about to receive my first Win10 PC and it would be great if you guys had a cumulated resource article on how to optimise it for gaming and shut down all the fancy extra stuff it seems to have (for reference I’ve been using Win7 for the last 4 years or so)

  14. Emeraude says:

    For all the good I think of MS in aggregate, as far as this is concerned: better it being done than it not being done.

  15. ansionnach says:

    Good riddance. Not that it’s that much of a big deal seeing as turning on and off services is far from rocket science. I suppose it might be of concern in the future if there’s no way of enabling it and there’s no crack available for a particular game (these DRM systems could see through CD/DVD emulation, right?). Will still work on ’98, although getting that going on a modern PC may not be possible (and VMs don’t always work well with games, especially when it comes to resizing and scaling to fill the screen). Suppose there’s always XP, Vista, 7 & 8 anyway. Maybe they do exist, but I haven’t had much difficulty getting win9x games going in Win7. Have run into issues with the graphics card quite a bit (but not with the integrated Intel chip).

  16. SuicideKing says:

    I wonder how it’ll affect GoG games – iirc they try and disable or work around securom stuff.

    Sucks for people who needed the driver to play. I’m sure I have some of those games too, but I don’t play them any more.

  17. Arthur ASCII says:

    Haha! It reminds me of that old quote by the late great Douglas Adams, you know the one; “The idea that Bill Gates has appeared like a knight in shining armour to lead all customers out of a mire of technological chaos neatly ignores the fact that it was he who, by peddling second-rate technology, led them into it in the first place.” Regardless, maybe this little thing might make people be a little more selective about what updates to install now? Of all the updates Microsoft regularly asks me to install every month, I’ve been opting out of almost every single one of them now for the last two years. Problem is, most people don’t bother taking time to read the release notes, blindly clicking on “download”. The old truism shines bright yet again, “If it ain’t broke…”. Yet another “update” that breaks something that worked previously… only this particular one was intentional, hahaha!

  18. epeternally says:

    In before the same thing happens with Denuvo some years down the line. Awful that we’ve seen the rise of a new overbearing DRM system with almost no backlash. I can understand being okay with Steamworks, even if I don’t agree that it’s not – on some level – still a problem (because it locks you to the Steam platform, but Denuvo is much more offensive.