Chapter 9. Encryption

Table of Contents

How it works (in a nutshell)
Encryption using DCP-o-matic
Creating KDMs from a DCP-o-matic project
Creating KDMs using a DKDM
Encryption overview

It is not required that DCPs be encrypted, but they can be. This chapter discusses the basic principles of DCP encryption, and how DCP-o-matic can create encrypted DCPs and KDMs for them.


DCPs can be encrypted. This means that the picture and sound data are encoded in such a way that only cinemas ‘approved’ by the DCP's creators can read them. In particular, this means copies of the DCP can be distributed by insecure means: if an ne'er-do-well called Mallory obtains a hard drive containing an encrypted DCP, there is no way that he can play it. Only those cinemas who receive a correct key delivery message (KDM) can play the DCP.

How it works (in a nutshell)

This section attempts to summarise how DCP encryption works. You can skip it if you like. You may need some knowledge of encryption methods to understand it.

We suppose that we are trying to send a DCP to Alice's cinema without a troublemaker called Mallory being able to watch it himself.

There are two main families of encryption techniques. The first, symmetric-key encryption, allows us to encode some data using some numeric key. After encoding, no-one can decode the data unless they know the key.

The first step in a DCP encryption is to encode its data with some key using symmetric-key encryption. The encrypted DCP can then be sent anywhere, safe in the knowledge that even if Mallory got hold of a copy, he could not decrypt it.

Alice, however, needs to know the key so she can play the DCP in her cinema. A simple approach might be for us to send Alice the key. However, if Mallory can intercept the DCP, he might also be able to intercept our communication of the key to Alice. Furthermore, if Alice happened to know Mallory, she could just send him a copy of the key.

The clever bit in the process requires the use of public-key encryption. With this technique we can encrypt a block of data using some ‘public’ key. That data can then only be decrypted using a corresponding private key which is different to the public key. The private and public keys form a pair which are related mathematically, but it is extremely hard (or rather, virtually impossible) to derive the private key from the public key.

Public-key encryption allows us to distribute the DCP's key to Alice securely. The manufacturer of Alice's projector generates a public and private key. They hide the private key deep inside the bowels of the projector (inside an integrated circuit) where no-one can read it. They then make the public key available to anyone who is interested.

We take our DCP's symmetric key and encrypt it using the public key of Alice's projector. We send the result to Alice over email (using a format called a Key Delivery Message, or KDM). Her projector then decrypts our message using its private key, yielding the magic symmetric key which can decrypt the DCP.

If is fine if Mallory intercepts our email to Alice, since the only key which can decrypt the message is the private key buried inside Alice's projector. The projector manufacturer is very careful that no-one ever finds out what this key is. Our DCP is secure: only Alice can play it back, since only her projector knows the key (even Alice does not).