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TurboTax DRM Writes to Your Boot Sector?! 749

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the now-that-ain't-cool dept.
ltwally writes "As reported on Slashdot (amongst other sites) recently, the latest version of TurboTax is laden with DRM software. Even worse, however, is that it apparently writes to your hard drive's boot-sector , as reported at Extreme Tech here. As I'm sure most Slashdotters already know, the boot-sector is often times used for silly things like boot-loaders and such. "
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TurboTax DRM Writes to Your Boot Sector?!

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  • by spazoid12 (525450) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:10PM (#5314259)
    to my boot sector...I hope it's a really lovely story. Maybe a romance novel would be nice.
  • Heh, silly me. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by numbski (515011) <numbskiNO@SPAMhksilver.net> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:12PM (#5314272) Homepage Journal
    I came *this* close to installing TurboTax on my Mac via VirtualPC or Bochs (cheaper) and then I read the box closely.

    "Will not work on the Macintosh Platform using Windows emulation software."

    I took it back and used TaxAct [taxact.com] instead. I nearly installed it on my fiancee's PC instead. Ick.

    You have to be on some sort of crack to write to a person's boot sector. Period. That's just off limits.
    • You have to be on some sort of crack to write to a person's boot sector. Period. That's just off limits.

      I write to your fiancee's boot sector. Zing!
    • Re:Heh, silly me. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bert64 (520050) <bert@@@slashdot...firenzee...com> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:45PM (#5314459) Homepage
      Infact, only an os installer should write to the boot sector, anything else should be considered a virus. Infact many bioses have the option to detect and block attempts to write to the bootsector under the name of bootsector virus protection.
      • Re:Heh, silly me. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:27PM (#5314681) Homepage
        And, most virus protection programs condition users to disable them before attempting to install software. So probably most people will allow TurboTax to do whatever it wants, because they think it's trustworthy.
      • Macrovision (Score:5, Informative)

        by Eraser_ (101354) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @03:47PM (#5315050)
        Get This.

        TurboTax also broke my DX8.1 install. Turns out, those fancy movies that come with it are Macrovision encoded. NT user? check your Services for a magical new service (I can't remember the name, I've long since ripped it a new one) which even if you disable it, running turbotax fires it right back up to automatic. Lord this gives me a new reason to get a full refund from them. How can one tell if their bootsector has some extra bits in it?
        • by Reziac (43301) on Monday February 17, 2003 @02:41AM (#5317640) Homepage Journal
          Last year I made the mistake of buying and installing TurboTax. It *forcibly* installed IE5.5 (no option, no way to interrupt it short of the reset button). This did all sorts of damage to my Win98 system, which so far I've been unable to entirely fix (despite drastic measures like IEradicator), plus IE5.5 proved ET-ware.

          If you can't tell, I'm STILL pissed about it, and will probably continue to be pissed for the life of this machine (too complex to reinstall everything and too large for practical OS/app backups). Ya see, I used to reboot this machine only once or twice a month. Now it needs it every 3-4 days tops (and before every CD burn) due to resource leakage it did NOT have before.

          That they've now pulled the oldfashioned trick of hiding shit in a reserved sector -- well, that doesn't surprise me, but it does give me yet another reason to rant against Intuit at every opportunity. So much for my many years of being a good customer, and recommending their software to all my clients. Never again.

          I've had the fun of dealing with the residue of an old app that used the "fake a bad sector" trick as copy protection. It rendered the hard disk impossible to back up by normal means, and when the program hiccupped and died, it proved impossible to uninstall OR reinstall (bad sector trick on the floppy to tell it that it was still installed, so it refused to install. Well, maybe with a sector editor... but that strikes me as a trifle extreme for everyday use.)

          The very pissed legit owner called the publisher, and found they'd gone tits-up and been sold to someone else, who would be happy to sell him an upgrade, but would NOT give him a new set of disks to replace those that were now screwed. Owner said fuck you very much and bought a competitor's product.

          Here's a hint, Intuit: Copy protection of the "fuck with the user's hard disk" variety didn't work in the DOS era, and it won't work now -- it pisses off the very people you most want to make happy: repeat customers.

    • I loooove TaxAct (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ChrisCampbell47 (181542) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:54PM (#5314810)
      TaxAct [taxact.com] is accurate and full of features. I've been using it for years (the paid version, which is still cheap). The UI is super slick and anybody's grandma could figure it out. Vote against DRM bullsiht like this with your wallet.
  • by yukster (586300) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:12PM (#5314274)

    Virii write to boot sector

    DRM writes to boot sector

    hmmmm...

    • Re:How Appropriate (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pike65 (454932)
      Yeah. Isn't this going to cause my virus checker to go apeshit?

      I would rather hope that Norton would spot something writing to my boot sector . . .
      • Re:How Appropriate (Score:5, Interesting)

        by crawling_chaos (23007) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:24PM (#5314347) Homepage
        The install instructions for TurboTax state that it will not install correctly with a virus checker enabled. Now we know why.
        • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:03PM (#5314559) Homepage
          ...maybe it's just my opinion, but if at anytime I *don't* disable my anti-virus software, it's when a program tells me to. Particularly one that should have no business doing virus-like behavior.

          This goes rigth up there with those trojans that cliam that it won't work "right" with firewalls/anti-virus/whatever active. If it does show up on your anti-virus scanner, take it back to the store and return it as being infected. Remember to note what anti-virus program you're running and version, in case they ask. And don't take "no" as in "no, there's no virus on it, disable your antivirus" or "no, must be your machine that's already infected" for an answer.

          Kjella
        • with a virus checker enabled, you probably shouldn't install it.

          Preventing this sort of nonsense is what it's *intended* to prevent.

          N'est pas?

          KFG
  • Turbotax naughtiness (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Neophytus (642863) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:15PM (#5314287)
    What smartarse decided to put registration data in such a volatile place such as the MBR. Heck, any program that performs low-level operations on your hard disk should be banned, because of the risks involved with writing blindly onto one area. Turbotax are treading shallow water, especially after their licencing 'policy'
    • by kfg (145172) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:11PM (#5314593)
      like, by the article and stuff, it doesn't write to the MBR. It writes to sector 33 of the boot *track.*

      The problem is that since the entire track is reserved for boot information, not just the sector holding your MBR, things like LILO and GRUB may be residing there as well.

      Boot loaders are legitimate boot records. Software registration codes are not. They don't belong in the boot track, whether they write to the MBR or not.

      KFG
      • by Moonshadow (84117) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:32PM (#5314715) Homepage
        Well, I know my girlfriend's parents bought TurboTax this year, and definitely used it. They also tend to be pretty concerned about digital privacy and such like this - I'm sure they'd be interested in getting it off their machine For one untrained in the ways of the boot track, how might I go about removing it? I've played with the MBR and such, and even had a virus infect my boot record before, but what's the proper method for removing this thing? Assembly? ;)

        Do the virus scanners catch this? If so, can they restore an untouched copy of the boot track?
        • by Flakeloaf (321975) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:40PM (#5314751) Homepage
          For one untrained in the ways of the boot track, how might I go about removing it? I've played with the MBR and such, and even had a virus infect my boot record before, but what's the proper method for removing this thing? Assembly? ;)

          Sector editor. I prefer BreakPoint's Hex Workshop [bpsoft.com]. Be sure you know exactly wtf you're doing though, or you could be in for a mighty long evening.

          By the same token, anyone with access to a sector editor can mimic TurboTax's copy protection and install it on pretty much any PC at will.
        • by Koyaanisqatsi (581196) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @05:14PM (#5315448)
          Back in the day, a "format /mbr" from a DOS disk would restore the MBR (not sure about the rest of the boot track). It doesn't do anything besides this, and it's safe with Win9x and probably Win2000 too.

          However, if you're using lilo, this will wipe it out, so you'll need to boot from floppy and run lilo as root again to re-create the MBR.
        • by Sheetrock (152993) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @05:26PM (#5315492) Homepage Journal
          I wouldn't touch it. From the article, it sounds like it's dropping a key that is only of importance to Intuit and the TurboTax software. If it's on their system, the damage is already done to whatever previously inhabited sector 33 (probably nothing important). It won't execute by itself, and it's probably data and not executable code anyway -- you've got more to worry about whatever Intuit is dumping into the Windows install.

          At best, you can wipe something that will be indecipherable to anybody but Intuit (and break the TurboTax installation in the process) -- at worst, you could inadvertently clean out your partition table. I'd recommend ignoring it, but if you don't mind flirting with disaster you might be able to use the same Norton tool they mentioned in the article.

  • by dubiousmike (558126) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:15PM (#5314292) Homepage Journal
    Now I am defintely NOT doing my taxes...again.

  • CDilla (Score:3, Informative)

    by Epsillon (608775) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:15PM (#5314293) Homepage Journal
    CDilla's LMS does this too, although I'm not completely convinced it's the bootsector. Still, nothing short of a low level format clears it, so it probably is.
    • Re:CDilla (Score:5, Informative)

      by Erik Hollensbe (808) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:35PM (#5314408) Homepage
      If you had read the article, this is C-Dilla's LMS that they're using.

      They also proved using a sector editor that the location is correct.
    • Re:CDilla (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ldir (411548) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:39PM (#5314426)
      They are the same thing. TurboTax uses the Macrovision C-Dilla (Safecast) license manager. It is covertly installed when you install TurboTax. It is not removed when you remove TurboTax, however. Intuit now offers a C-Dilla uninstaller on their web site.

      I'm one of the legions of long-time TurboTax users who switched to TaxCut this year. Glad I did, TaxCut works just as well, costs half as much, and has no DRM or other installation games. As a bonus, it imports TurboTax data flawlessly.

      We went through this before, in the early days of the PC (early 80's). Companies kept using more and more obnoxious forms of copy protection, making software more brittle, and more and more difficult to install and use. Finally enough consumers revolted and the software companies wised up. Looks like Intuit needs a history lesson.

      • Re:CDilla (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Nogami_Saeko (466595) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:58PM (#5314529)
        Erm, ya.

        It's farking TAX software, it's not CAD, it's not 3D animation or video editing. It's for doing TAXES.

        It's like installing a sophisticated electronic ignition interlock system in a Yugo or something. Why bother?

        It's this sort of thing that permanently alienates me on a product. I will NEVER buy a product that uses low-level writes on my system for copy protection purposes, especially if they try and keep it secret.

        N.
      • Re:CDilla (Score:5, Insightful)

        by EvlG (24576) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:13PM (#5314601)
        I also switched this year, and in the registration comments for TaxCut, I wrote something to the effect of:

        I switched from TurboTax because of their lame DRM schemes. As long as you don't do this, I'll keep buying your software.

        Here's hoping they listen.
  • TurboTax XP (Score:5, Funny)

    by Openadvocate (573093) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:16PM (#5314295)
    Hmm seems to me like this product rather should be called Turbotax XP.
  • by ltwally (313043) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:16PM (#5314297) Homepage Journal
    TurboTax's DRM software only modifies sector 33 of your boot-sector. Basically what this means is that for Windows only users, you're safe.

    If, however, you use other boot-loaders or "alternative" OS's, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise as things suddenly stop booting. YIKES!.

    Anyhoo.. just thought that I'd point out that any of you that just have to run TurboTax should be "safe" unless you run something non-M$.
    • by Pius II. (525191) <PiusIINO@SPAMgmx.de> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:25PM (#5314353)
      This is software targeted at average users, meaning that it is easily possible that some of them still use hard drives which store additional enablers in the MBR to overcome all those silly BIOS limits (512 mb ought to be enough for everyone. No wait. Shit. Well, then let's extend this to 2 GB. Oh, damn. 8 GB. Oh, there goes another. 32 GB. Oh no, wrong again. 128 GB. To be continued...).
      I don't think I have to mention what overwriting those drivers means to the users data; plus, you aren't even likely to be able to restore those drivers.
    • by jdkincad (576359) <insane.cellist@gmail.com> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:40PM (#5314434)
      Not true. My parent's machine got fscked up after installation of TurboTax, they had a system restore utility that refused to work aand let the computer boot afterwards. At least this would go a long way to explain the problem.
    • only modifies sector 33 of your boot-sector

      Huh? A sector on a disk does not contain other sectors. Therefore, there cannot be a sector 33 of the boot sector.

      Perhaps you mean that that sector 33 in the boot-information track or cylinder is overwritten. That would seem to make more sense.

  • by tuba_dude (584287) <tuba.terry@gmail.com> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:17PM (#5314303) Homepage Journal
    It's times like these when I feel lucky that I've got a good buddy that's a tax guy...and I've got dirt on him.
  • VMWare? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Malc (1751) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:19PM (#5314312)
    Anybody know if this can be used with VMWare? DO virutalised IDE disks conform all the way down to these unused sectors?
    • Re:VMWare? (Score:4, Informative)

      by phillymjs (234426) <slashdot@nosPaM.stango.org> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:30PM (#5314381) Homepage Journal
      I vaguely remember reading on a Mac site that the TurboTax packaging rather explicitly states that the product will not run in any kind of Windows emulator (the article of course was talking about Connectix Virtual PC).

      If that's the case, this boot-sector thing might be a major part of the reason why.

      ~Philly
    • Re:VMWare? (Score:4, Informative)

      by reynolds_john (242657) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:55PM (#5314509)
      I would bet the farm on the fact you could do it with VMWare. I have found that OSes installed on VMware have no knowledge of their host operating systems, nor does any disk activity from the VMware OS have any affect on the host's partitions/drives, because the 'disk' is actually just a file.
      • Re:VMWare? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by athakur999 (44340)
        It is possible for an OS to know it's on VMWare. For example, the Linux guest OS toolkit includes a program for use when you use the same Linux installation as both a real OS and a guest OS. The program detected whether you were running as a real OS or a guest OS and used different config files as appropriate for networking, X, etc.

        Not to mention that VMWare disks are given drive ID strings like "VMWare Virtual Disk" (or something like that). A program could just look for that string in the drive ID.

        That being said, from other posts it doesn't look like the DRM software checks.
    • Re:VMWare? (Score:5, Informative)

      by youngsd (39343) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:19PM (#5314633)

      Yep, it works with VMware. That's how I installed it, after reading the earlier /. story. One thing, though, you need to turn off the "hardware acceleration" in the VM configuration while starting the program (after that, you can turn acceleration back on).

      After reading the earlier stories about locking to a particular machine, and possibly installing spyware, I figured I'd either return the thing or install it under VMware. The geek in me won out, so I decided to see how it'd work under VMware. I'm sure glad I didn't install it on a PC directly.

      -Steve

  • umm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ArchieBunker (132337) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:19PM (#5314313) Homepage
    Correct me if I'm wrong but most apps in NT4/2k/XP aren't allowed direct write access to disks or even hardware. Does this only affect win98 boxes?
    • Administrator (Score:5, Informative)

      by yerricde (125198) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:29PM (#5314374) Homepage Journal

      As I understand it, a program running as Administrator on NT can elevate its privileges to LocalSystem and do just about anything, such as write sectors to physical drives.

      • Re:Administrator (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)
        I'm not sure about this. NT uses a Hardware Abstraction Layer which should prevent any direct access to any hardware. In order to write a defragmenter for NT, Diskeeper had to write a kernel extension which would give them low level access to the disk.
        • Re:Administrator (Score:5, Informative)

          by quantum bit (225091) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:44PM (#5314767) Journal
          I'm not sure about this. NT uses a Hardware Abstraction Layer which should prevent any direct access to any hardware. In order to write a defragmenter for NT, Diskeeper had to write a kernel extension which would give them low level access to the disk.

          No, the HAL does not prevent direct writes to the disk. An administrator can open the raw disk device ("\\.\PhysicalDrive0" -- the NT equivalent of BSD's /dev/ad0c or Linux's /dev/hda0) and read / write anything.

          I suspect the reason that a defragmenter would need special kernel support is that the file system driver keeps internal state data and would react, um, badly to the data on the disk changing out from under it. Think blue screen and possibly corrupt filesystem.

          However, for areas that aren't directly touched by the FS driver, such as the MBR, unallocated partitions, or partitions for which there is no filesystem driver loaded, like UFS or ext2, this method of access works just fine. A while back I wrote a quick utility to let me tell the FreeBSD bootloader (which lives in the MBR) which partition I want it to default to loading on the next boot. Real handy for accessing dual-boot systems remotely.
  • Analog tax returns (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PizzaFace (593587) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:19PM (#5314314)
    Folks, the forms are no more complicated than the software. To the extent the forms are more complicated, the software is oversimplifying the law. Save yourself a few bucks and just fill in the forms by hand.
    • by koreth (409849) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:28PM (#5314367)
      Translation: Folks, your time is less valuable than the cost of tax preparation software. Spend a few hours to save yourself a couple bucks.

      Err, no thanks. It's worth $30 to me to save several hours of sifting through stacks of paper, re-checking my calculations and making sure I've copied the correct numbers from form A to form B.

    • by swb (14022) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:28PM (#5314369)
      The forms themselves aren't hard, but the rules governing stuff certainly can be, and the IRS docs aren't always helpful. On more than one occasion I've found myself tossing a coin over something, since the IRS documentation isn't always clear.

      Presumably the electronic forms and the "choices" they make have been analyzed by someone who really understands the tax code, but for all we know the coin tossed was a Rupee in India by someone who has never filled out American tax forms! No offense to Indian programmers, but I'm sure my guesses of Indian tax law would be just as bad.

      I also kind of like the neo-luddite feel of mailing in my taxes on paper. It feels subversive for some odd reason.

    • by Blackhalo (572408)
      I'm sure that if all that you are filling out is a 1040EZ, then yes it is eaiser to fill out by hand. But those of us with "real" jobs, 401k's, employee stock purchace plans, online brokereages, IRA's and other finantial complexites, this software makes tax time much less painful. I disturbs me that a company that had such a good brand recognition with me, i.e. it's not microsoft, would stoop to such a draconian DRM strategy. I wonder how they are going to handle all the support calls generated by the anti-virus software flagging this as a virus?
    • My wife does our taxes. We have an LLC, really a microbusiness that does less than $30k/yr [this year it'll be $25k]. From that you knock off expenses, ebay fraud [paypal, please take a bow], and the like.

      Anyhow, just doing minimum compliance with the law, no massively complicated deductions, you have to do things like calculate "minimum alternative taxes", and such... it's taken my wife since December, 2 hours or so each day, about 3 days a week... so I guess that would be 36 hours so far. She's still not done.

      Yeah, she's doing it analog. I don't think turbo tax *would* help a whole lot, especially since a major part of her job is reading and rereading all the IRS documents to find out their new rules this year, and how she has to expense this, deduct that, cannot expense and *must* deduct t'other, *must* expense the third, or fill in a form explaining why she isn't expensing it, and so on and so forth.

      I dunno. If you count the cost of her time as $20/hour, then without us owing anything, the cost of taxes would be $720 and counting.

      Anyhow, lemme finish up with a link and a comment:

      http://www.givemeliberty.org : absolutely right, legally correct based on written law, but it'd be incredibly stupid to join. Lots of our rules have nothing to do with law, if you get my drift. Better just to leave.

  • Linux interop? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by robbo (4388) <slashdot@[ ]ra.net ['sim' in gap]> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:21PM (#5314325)
    The comments so far are pretty inane and clearly come from windows users.. any word on how it impacts a dual-boot box? does it render your lilo or grub setup useless? I would personally be very upset if it screwed up my boot setup, and reasonably so, I think. imho, hese kinds of things should raise the hackles of the tech community, and linux users in general enough to give the vendor some serious shit.

    what does it do to wine?
    • Re:Linux interop? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Red Warrior (637634)
      .. any word on how it impacts a dual-boot box? So far, so good. I've got TT installed in WIN98. I run a triple-boot WIN98/RH8.0/Mandrake9.0, using RedHat's Grub. Works fine, boots fine.
      Intuit's still a bunch of SOBs for doing such a dangerous thing, though.
    • LILO and GRUB shouldn't have the monopoly on fucking up my boot sector, damnit!
  • No. (Score:4, Informative)

    by cperciva (102828) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:23PM (#5314335) Homepage
    This software does NOT write to your boot sector. It writes to sector 33 on the track which contiains the boot sector.

    This is certainly a Bad Thing, but not nearly as bad as writing to the boot sector would be.
  • What we need is... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rickthewizkid (536429) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:24PM (#5314343)
    a piece of software to remove the DRM in TurboTax - kinda like "insert your CD, run this program, turbotax is up and running"

    The only thing is that someone would have to do it anonymously - or from outside the US to avoid violating the DMCA

    (Actually, this sounds like a good ad for H&R Block...)

    Just my 1040EZ's worth
    RickTheWizKid
  • by xFallenAngel (565811) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:24PM (#5314348)
    It looks like Turbotax programmers just had a sneaky idea on how to make it hard to crack their program. They just thought it was a cool idea, not thinking about the consequences.

    Sure its not really a good idea and if lots of companies do that, it would lead to conflicts. Especially since 33 is a nice number, being in the middle. But is it really something we should be "afraid of" ?

    The article had its worries about Tax software forgetting its licence just before you are done and have to send them off to the gov't. But that isn't too new with computers. Murphy's Law would apply regardless of what kind of copy protection that software has.
  • by dnaumov (453672) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:24PM (#5314349)
    3DS Max like to keep it's registration information in the boot-sector and of course it's ONLY compatible with the Windows bootloaders.. This means that if you have a dual-boot system with Linux using GRUB to boot Windows, the moment you register 3DS Max from within your Windows install, your bootloader will be practically wiped out. If you reinstall the bootloader again, 3DS MAX will complain that you have to re-register and obviously, if you do so, your bootloader will be wiped yet again.
  • by D1rtbag (650553) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:24PM (#5314351)
    I can just imagine every piece of software writing its particular attempt to defeat piracy in our boot sectors; finally, we'd have a regular mosh-pit of games and apps regularly crashing our systems and giving virus-checkers fits of apoplexy. Bravo to Intuit for being a trendsetter .
  • by macemoneta (154740) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:26PM (#5314360) Homepage
    Here [irs.gov] is the intro page at the IRS, where you can select a tax preparer that will let you file and submit electronically for free. Check the criteria for qualification; most people qualify.


    If you insist on using TurboTax, use their web-based vesion; it's alway current and no software gets installed on your PC.


    Personally, even though I've been using TurboTax for over 10 years, I will be using a different tax preparerer this year. I find their association with this kind of DRM crap distastful.

  • UK online returns (Score:5, Interesting)

    by larien (5608) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:27PM (#5314365) Homepage Journal
    Here in the UK, we're being encouraged to do returns online. As I had to fill one in for 2001/2002 (things like having a private pension etc & being in the higher tax bracket meant I was due a refund), I figured I might as well. From the web site, I was able to enter details for all my incomings & outgoings in forms. At the end of it all, it calculated my tax due & tax paid (via PAYE and tax deducted at source) and offered to give me a refund either by cheque in the mail, a higher tax code for next year (to recover it) or even by direct bank transfer (which I chose).

    All in all, pretty painless as well as free...:)

  • by wiggys (621350) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:31PM (#5314389)
    I installed Autocad 2000i on a computer a couple of years ago. Anyway, the user managed to completely screw up his computer in such a way that we had to reformat and reinstall Windows 2000 (even FDISK was used). When the OS was reinstalled we tried installing Autocad but the software informed us that our 30-day trial period had ended and we must contact Autodesk to register. So... where was the info written to?

    But that's not all. Recently The Register ran a story [theregister.co.uk] which talked about how a stolen tablet PC had been traced over the net. The security software installed on this notebook (Computrace) supposedly "involves a tamper resistant agent that resides on the hard disk of PCs. Even formatting a drive will not erase this agent."

    Now, I for one doubt those claims (Partition Magic would surely be able to zap the software, and the software wouldn't run if Linux was installed etc) but if it is true then who knows what else could be written to inaccessible (by the user at least) parts of the hard-disk?

    It gets worse. The Computrace software creates a backdoor in your system which allows Computrace (and anyone else who figures out how to use it) to silently delete files from your drive). It also uses cloaking software which "is silent and invisible and will not be detected by looking at the disk directory or running a utility that examines RAM."

    Claims are also made that it can worm its way through firewalls. Big claims indeed (perhaps too big without some clarification... the devil's in the details) but if this software is sold to the public by a private firm, what the heck could Government departments install on our computers to track what we do?

    • by OneInEveryCrowd (62120) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @04:19PM (#5315197)
      A year ago I bought the then new Logitech dual pickup optical mouse and installed the drivers from the included CD. The install looked kind of suspicious so I ran ad-aware. It reported some kind of spyware components so I removed them. The system was clean before I installed the drivers.

      This really blew my mind at the time. I can see someone who provides free software doing that using the excuse that they need to make money and pay the employees, etc. But spyware with a $49.99 USA mouse ! Jeez...............
  • I wonder... (Score:3, Funny)

    by seldolivaw (179178) <me@NOSPAM.seldo.com> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:33PM (#5314401) Homepage
    If you use a pirated copy of tax submission software, can you still declare it as an expense?
  • by InfinityWpi (175421) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:37PM (#5314419)
    Yes, our new tax software does to your hard drive what the IRS is going to do to you!
  • Turbo-fuxxored (Score:3, Interesting)

    by curtisk (191737) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:45PM (#5314454) Homepage Journal
    Wow, these guys just keep getting better and better press, talk about running a sucessful software franchise down! From their new licensing schemes which now link with their use of the boot sector of your HD...what the hell are they thinking?

    So to use your software, I need to disable any virus scanners? That right there is a red flag if I ever saw one. Holy hell!

    I'm all for , and understand, the need for them to try to protect themselves against piracy, but they are treading on dangerous ground with this.

    Someone read the EULA, does it cover them if your bootloader dies?

  • by dbc (135354) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:48PM (#5314474)
    here [intuit.com]
    that said something like "TurboTax writes to boot sector"


    In a past life, I managed a software product validation team. Nothing would have shipped past me with this in it. It's a bug. File a report. You do not need to be a registered user to file a bug report, it turns out.

    • Just filed mine... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lethyos (408045)
      I explained that my system running Linux and Win2K would not boot and after re-running my bootloader, the system would start but TurboTax would not run.

      Even if you don't actually own TurboTax (I infact used it for the first time this year) I would file a bug report. We all know what the symptoms and causes are and they're valid no matter who reports them.

      We must all make a stand to demonstrate consumers dislike and resist silly measures like this. Especially when these measures damage our computers!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I filed a "product suggestion" at http://altserv.intuit.com/orien/turbotax_enhance.c gi [intuit.com] (saying that I'd used TurboTax for several years but would not use it this year because of the DRM issues). I got the following reply:
      Thank you for contacting Intuit Inc.


      We received your e-mail concerning TurboTax(R) Product Activation. Product Activation is designed to help reduce unlicensed use of TurboTax software. It ties a single copy (a license is tied to a pc, not a copy of the software) of TurboTax to a single PC. Product Activation is completely anonymous; no personal data is collected or transmitted to Intuit. Product activation does not prevent TurboTax customers from preparing tax returns for themselves and their family members or from giving the CD to someone else who can then purchase their own product license. TurboTax customers can prepare their return from more than one computer but will only be able to activate, print or e-file their tax return from a single PC.

      However, you may install the trial version on other computer and work on your returns but you can Efile and print from the computer where you have first installed the program.

      Product activation helps to ensure TurboTax customers use the product in accordance with the license agreement. The key terms of the License Agreement have been the same for the past several years. It restricts the licensed use of TurboTax software to a single computer. With product activation your privacy is safe. We do not transmit any personally identifiable information about you or your computer.

      Product activation transfers nothing but a Product Key and Request Code. The code and key are matched together and a confirmation is sent to Intuit which enables TurboTax to be activated on your computer. Product activation does not monitor any activities on your computer such as what Web sites you visit, etc. It will not prevent you from using your CD-R or CD-RW drives.

      You can still prepare multiple returns from your computer and prepare your return using multiple computers at no additional cost. You can remove/delete Macrovision SafeCast (C-Dilla) folders and components associated with TurboTax.

      We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused you. We hope new arrangements will not affect our business relationship in any way but will continue to grow. We have forwarded your comments to the TurboTax Management and Development Teams for consideration. Although we cannot guarantee that your feedback will result in a change to our guidelines, we assure you that we take all advice seriously because it contributes to the improvement of our products and services, and we appreciate your honesty.

      To obtain additional information about product activation, please visit us at http://www.turbotaxsupport.com/default.asp?platfor m=1&docid=815 [turbotaxsupport.com].

      Further, Intuit respects and protects customer information. We integrate privacy in to everything we do. That is why privacy and security were key considerations when implementing the product activation technology in federal TurboTax for Windows desktop products for Tax Year 2002.

      The Macrovision SAFECAST(R) product activation technology used by Intuit installs files on your computer when you install TurboTax. These files serve as your product license; in addition, they also manage and protect that license. These files interact only with TurboTax and with each other. Macrovision SAFECAST does not gather any personally identifiable information. It does not examine, modify, or gather information about your computer, your computer's contents, or your activities or behavior, nor does it transmit any such information to Intuit, Macrovision, or any other party.

      C-Dilla is a company that was acquired by Macrovision in 1999. Some of the Macrovision SAFECAST technology used in TurboTax is derived from earlier C-Dilla products. "Spyware" is jargon for hidden programs that transmit user information to others (usually advertisers) without the user's knowledge. C-Dilla is not spyware.

      If you have additional questions, please visit us at www.turbotaxsupport.com. We appreciate your interest and look forward to serving you in the future.

      There is a new uninstaller for Macrovision Safecast/c-dilla. This requires that you first complete your taxes, uninstall TurboTax normally, and follow the process located here. http://www.turbotaxsupport.com/default.asp?platfor m=1&docid=836 [turbotaxsupport.com]

      If you need further assistance, or if there is any other way we may be of service, please contact us at http://www.intuit.com/service.

      Respectfully,

      Nidhi

      Intuit Customer Service
  • Not the boot sector! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by steveha (103154) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:51PM (#5314485) Homepage
    This annoying DRM junk does not involve the boot sector. According to the actual article (which I actually read), they found it writing to track 0, sector 33.

    Track 0, sector 0 is the boot sector. The partition table is stored in this sector. The rest of track 0 (sectors 1 through 63) is not officially used, so some DRM systems like to stash data there.

    What makes this annoying is when you try to install another DRM-enabled product that also wants to write in the same place; after you install the second program, the first one will accuse you of being a pirate, and it will refuse to run anymore. Since there is no standard for using this space, its easy for two DRM systems to conflict with each other.

    If there were a standard for using that space, presumably the DRM authors wouldn't want to use it! After all, someone would write a utility that showed you what programs were using that space, and for what... and then it wouldn't be obscure, and so it wouldn't be "secure" anymore. Feh.

    I won't ever buy programs that pull stunts like this.

    steveha
  • This is *NOT* DRM (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Twirlip of the Mists (615030) <twirlipofthemists@yahoo.com> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:57PM (#5314525)
    Guys, come on. We're all supposed to be geeks and nerds, right? Geeks and nerds pride themselves on being right all the time. Calling TurboTax's licensing scheme "DRM" is just plain wrong.

    DRM stands for "digital rights management." It refers to systems for encoding, managing, or enforcing rights and clearances for digital media. It's not a general-purpose synonym for any copy-protection or piracy-prevention system.

    I've come to expect this kind of blatant misattribution from the mainstream media, but on Slashdot? I've come to expect four things from Slashdot over the years: misspellings, flame wars, trolls trolls trolls, and accuracy. If this kind of thing keeps up, I'm going to have to take #4 off my list.
  • by Safety Cap (253500) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:25PM (#5314672) Homepage Journal
    Thank you for sharing your concerns about TurboTax. Feedback from customers like you is the best way for us to know exactly what you're experiencing so we can work together to get you correct information and the best solution.

    I am sorry that it took us so long to respond to your e-mail. You expressed concern about how product activation will impede your ability to access your tax files in future years.

    • If you reinstall TurboTax after October 15, 2003, you will not need to purchase a new product license. TurboTax 2002 products that currently require product activation will be activated free of charge, thus allowing anyone to install TurboTax on any computer without needing to purchase a product license. (Example: You activate TurboTax on your home computer and complete your taxes in March of 2003. The following December, you install TurboTax on a new computer. Because you installed TurboTax after October 15, you will not need to purchase a product license.)
    • If you purchase a new computer or a new hard disk for your current computer, Intuit technical support agents can assist you in reinstalling and reactivating TurboTax at no additional cost.
    • If you reformat your hard disk or replace your current operating system, in most cases reactivation will take place without you needing to contact Intuit.
    • If you reinstall the same version of TurboTax on the same computer that it was previously activated on, you do not need to purchase a new product license.
    • If you install TurboTax on another computer before October 16, 2003, you need to purchase a new product license only if you want to print from within TurboTax, electronically file, or save your tax return as a .pdf file from that computer.
    I hope this information answers your questions. If you would like to get more information about product activation, please see the Product Activation page at http://www.turbotaxsupport.com/default.asp?platfor m=1&docid=815 [turbotaxsupport.com].

    You are a valued customer and your opinion matters. If I can answer any additional concerns that you may have, please let me know.

    Sincerely,

    AnnabelG
    Tax Development, TurboTax

  • by Eric_Cartman_South_P (594330) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:26PM (#5314677)
    Unless you are a student (any maybe even IF you are?) the return on investment in a good accountant is worth every penny. A good accountant here in New York City will cost you $200. And there is NO WAY even a W2 earner (sitting in a cubicle working for someone, you're W2) can not save $200 by having a good accountant do their taxes. It also makes you as audit proof as possible, and you don't do any of the work! I highly recomend you do it.

    And if you have an S or a C corp for you consultants out there, you have NO EXCUSE. No amount of coffe-sippin-while-reading-tax-books will replace the mountain of cash a good accountant will save you! The $200 investment is CHEAP! Get a good accountant, and let him do all the hard work and educate you on deductions, etc.

  • by pyros (61399) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @03:07PM (#5314871) Journal
    I just sent this to public_relations@intuit.com, if other people do the same, InTuit will get the message that the upsets customers. No garauntee they will stop, but at least they'll no it upsets us.

    "I'm a potential customer for TurboTax software. A recent discussion held at the Slashdot forum indicates that TurboTax is laden with DRM (Digital Rights Management) components, and even goes so far as to write to the boot sector of the hard drive. I wanted to know how InTuit responds to this. I can't support a company who would include such measures in their software. I understand the need to prevent piracy, but writing to the boot sector is something that only disk partitioning software and operating system installers should do. I'm eager to hear InTuits response on this matter, as it will be the deciding factor in whether I buy InTuit software.

    Here are some links to the sites I am obtaining information from.

    Original article claiming the action:
    http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,397 3,881243, 00.asp

    Pursuant discussion on Slashdot:
    http://slashdot.org/articles/03/02/16/1 549232.shtm l?tid=185

    PS - I'm posting a copy of this to the Slashdot forum, and intend to forward the reply to Slashdot as well."
  • by nurd68 (235535) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @03:22PM (#5314929) Homepage
    1.) I just happen to have an inspiron 7500 with no screen (hinges broke off). Works fine when hooked to a CRT, though.

    2.) It came with a Win98 license that I retained, but never used (it was a GNU/Linux box).

    3.) Install legal copy of Win98

    4.) Install copy of TurboTax

    5.) Do taxes

    6.) Pass laptop around to family and friends, who hook it up to their monitors and printers, but (as per the license) it is only installed on ONE machine. (The machine just happens to move around a lot...)
  • those guys! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jqh1 (212455) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @03:25PM (#5314941) Homepage
    When I first heard about DRM on turbo tax, I got depressed and sent "whine-mail" on their website. One Joyce, from the Intuit "Executive Response Team" replied, and I responded again. I still haven't heard back:

    Joyce,
    Thanks for the response -- let me tell you a little bit about my April 15,
    2002:

    The time - about 11:00 PM. I've completed my 1040 and related forms using
    TurboTax on my main Windows 2000 computer (I have a home network, with
    several computers connecting to the internet through a common router to a
    cable modem). I go through the steps to file electronically, but
    experience repeated failures, with a couple of different error
    messages. I get on the live chat support and finally get through to an
    attendant. I get some advice, then try again to no avail. Returning to
    support I describe my setup a bit more. When the attendant learns that I
    have a home network, he/she says that I'm more or less on my own. I try
    making many different changes to the configuration of the Win2k computer,
    including dialing up to the internet straight through a modem. No dice,
    and no time to wait for another chat session with support.

    The time is about 11:45 (and my blood pressure is rising
    fast...). I uninstall TurboTax from the Win2k computer and install it on
    my daughter's Win98 computer, transferring the
    tax data file across the network. About 11:55, I try electronic filing
    again, and it works! Without remembering or wishing to burden you with
    the details, let me assure you that it appeared to be a Win2k related
    problem, or at least a problem with the network set-up on the Win2k
    machine. Blood pressure goes down, and I put the whole thing behind me.

    Running that scenario again with product activation lands me in the
    emergency room. I do appreciate the note, and I'm going to start my 2002
    taxes soon. I'll revisit the product activation issue then.

    Josh

    On Mon, 3 Feb 2003, JoyceC Support - [snip] wrote:

    > Dear Mr. Hamilton,
    >
    > Thank you for your E-mail to Intuit. My name is Joyce with Intuit's
    > Executive Response Team. I would like to respond to your concerns about
    > using our product. By working with our customers, it is our intent to
    > establish clear, identifiable solutions to your questions and concerns.
    > First and foremost, I am sorry for the delay in responding to your comments.
    > Second, I gather you are giving up on TurboTax because of concerns with the
    > product activation this year.
    >
    > Let me share some facts about our product activation:
    >
    > * TurboTax 2002 includes a product activation process that ensures
    > TurboTax is used in accordance with the TurboTax software license and
    > services agreement.
    >
    > * Product activation ties printing and filing from the TurboTax
    > federal product to a single computer, preventing unlicensed use of the
    > product.
    >
    > * Privacy was a key consideration when implementing the Product
    > Activation technology in TurboTax. Product activation is completely
    > anonymous -- no personal information is transmitted to Intuit.
    >
    > * Product activation transfers nothing but a Product Key and Request
    > Code. The Key and Code key are matched together and a confirmation is sent
    > from Intuit that activates TurboTax on your computer.
    >
    > * Product activation does not monitor any activities on your computer
    > nor will it prevent you from using your CD-R or CD-RW drives.
    >
    > * The functionality that manages the TurboTax product activation
    > (Macrovision SafeCast(r)) can be deleted from your computer when you are
    > done using TurboTax. The uninstall utility is available on our support site
    > at
    > http://www.turbotaxsupport.com/default.asp?platfor m=1&DocID=836
    >
    > I hope this information answers your questions. If you would like to get
    > more information about product activation, please see the Product Activation
    > page at http://www.turbotaxsupport.com/default.asp?platfor m=1
    >
    > &docid=815. You are a valued customer and your opinion matters. If I can
    > answer any additional concerns that you may have, please let me know.
    >
    > Joyce
    > Executive Response Team
    > Intuit. Inc.
    > [snip]
    >
    >
    > In response to the following E-mail received:
    >
    > I'm sad to hear about your product activation scheme. I will not buy
    > TurboTax this year (as I have for many years so far) because of it. What's
    > depressing for me is that I think the product is so good, otherwise - that
    > is, without the product activation, I would be 100% certain to buy and use
    > TurboTax, but with it, I'm 100% certain *not* to.
  • by statusbar (314703) <jeffk@statusbar.com> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @03:34PM (#5314976) Homepage Journal
    Can they legally shut down this discussion on slashdot just because we are talking about the intimate details of 'track 0, sector 33'? Now that we know this, the protection scheme is broken, anyone can write a crack for this program that simply writes the appropriate data on sector 33.

    --jeff++
  • taxes? (Score:4, Funny)

    by trybywrench (584843) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @03:41PM (#5315011)
    fffttt i did my taxes over a year ago.
  • by g4dget (579145) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @04:19PM (#5315201)
    The IRS (and state tax boards) should really provide tax forms in XML format. Furthermore, tax laws are a good place to start translating fuzzy legal language into clear mathematical and programmatic rules, and those rules should not be coded up by a bunch of private companies, they should be supplied by the IRS. Then, the function of tax software would be to be a user interface to the IRS-supplied XML forms and rules.
  • by taustin (171655) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @05:19PM (#5315463) Homepage Journal
    First, federal law requires me to keep tax records for a minimum period of time, and to produce them on demand. If I keep my tax records in Inuit's software, I cannot be reasonably certain that I will be able to produce them on demand. It seems to me that it might actually be a federal crime for me to use Intuit's software to keep any financial records of any kind. (IANAL)

    Second, in my experience, people tend to see in others what they see in themselves. Intuit sees dishonesty in others. I think it would be very, very foolish to give sensitive financial data to a company that sees dishonesty in itself. I could be wrong, of course, but the risk is simply too great. Never make a bet you can't afford to lose.
  • Make it clear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by evilpenguin (18720) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @06:42PM (#5315788)
    This is a pattern, folks. Since C-dilla is a key based system, writing software to save, restore, or move cylinder 0 of your hard drive might be illegal under the DMCA. This has to be fought. Here's what I've done:

    1. I wrote to Intuit telling them why I will not buy TurboTax ever again. They violated my trust. I will not trust them with my taxes again. I already stopped upgrading Quicken with Deluxe 2000 because it became noticably slower and because it is not available in a Linux version. Tell them you will buy TaxCut (if you plan to buy tax software again) next year and that this is why.

    2. Join the EFF [eff.org]. I give them a small contribution every year.

    3. Write your congressional delegation about your opposition to the DMCA. The existing laws are enough. The DMCA could be construed as making disk image backup software illegal!

    Vote with your dollars. Intuit is never, EVER getting another dime from me.

    If you feel the same way, great. But be sure to LET THEM KNOW.

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