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Hewlett Packard has climbed down from its threats to use the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to silence a group of security researchers which unearthed a flaw in its Tru64 operating system.

In a statement released yesterday, the firm withdrew threats of using the Act against Snosoft, a loose confederation of security researchers who publicised a serious, and as yet unfixed, buffer overflow bug within the su utility of Tru 64.

HP states that it has verified the vulnerability, details of which, it says, was brought to its attention on July 18 (a date disputed by Snosoft, incidentally), and promises to release a fix for the problem within the next 48 hours.

The computer giant is reluctant to be drawn on its discussion with SnoSoft, however it does say that the reported letter to SnoSoft threatening use of the DMCA against the firm "was not consistent or indicative of HP's policy".

"We can say emphatically that HP will not use the DMCA to stifle research or impede the flow of information that would benefit our customers and improve their system security," the statement, obtained by CNet in response to its earlier exclusive on the story, states.

HP threatened Snosoft with the DMCA and criminal charges earlier this week after one of its members, Phased, posted an exploit for the vulnerability (without permission from the rest of the group). In response to the posting, this Monday HP Veep Kent Ferson fired off a letter warning that the security researchers "could be fined up to $500,000 and imprisoned for up to five years" for its actions.

The warning letter from HP bears out the worst fears of the security industry that the DMCA will be used to stifle legitimate research, following on from the controversial prosecution of Russian programmer Dimitry Sklyarov and ElcomSoft.

Faced with a backlash from developers and activists - and the prospect of plunging itself into a public relations nightmare - HP has backed down, like Adobe before it. At least in this case HP acted swiftly to withdraw its threats, before the Feds got involved... ®

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HP invokes DMCA to quash Tru64 bug report

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