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MS eBook cracker keeps findings secret

Security research frustrated by DMCA

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An anonymous developer has created a program which cracks the security of Microsoft's eBook reader software. The development puts a fresh spin on the case against Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov.

According to the MIT Technology Review, a "home brewed decryption program" has been developed which defeats the digital rights management features in Microsoft Reader.

The utility, which hasn't been released yet, enables a user to convert from Microsoft Reader-protected files to something which can be viewed by an ordinary Web browser, and gets around the restriction that a Microsoft Reader file can only be activated twice. (This feature is, incidentally, tied in with the way, the application works with Microsoft's Passport authentication system.)

In any case the developer of the program reportedly wants to keep it for personal use only, to help people get round practical problems involved in, for example, keeping Reader documents when a user upgrades his or her machine.

There are differences for sure, but in many ways the Microsoft Reader encryption key recovery utility resembles Advanced eBook Processor - an application which cracks the lame access controls on Adobe's eBook Reader - which Sklyarov had a hand in developing.

Sklyarov was arrested for offences under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) when he made a speech on eBook insecurity and was indicted last week on charges that carry a maximum sentence of 25 years in jail and a fine of $2,250,000. His employer, ElcomSoft, is looking at fines of up to $2,500,000.

It remains unclear whether the creation of a utility to bypass Microsoft, as well as Adobe, copyright protection measures will help Sklyarov in his arguments about the legitimacy of his actions.

Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer of Counterpane Internet Security, and a noted cryptographic researcher, said the DMCA has been applied in ways never intended by Congress.

He said DMCA is being used to frustrate discussion on how copyright protection systems can be broken. This suits the narrow interests of the entertainment industry but unless research is carried out on systems it makes it much "harder to invent good technology", according to Schneier. Research is needed because it's impossible to make a system that can't be cracked, he adds. ®

External Links

MIT Technology Review: Breaking Microsoft's e-Book Code

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