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DMCA threats gag security researchers

Cease and desist

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Threats of DMCA-inspired lawsuits have been used to gag a pair of security researchers due to give a talk on the shortcomings of smartcard technology at the Interz0ne.com conference last weekend.

Blackboard Inc. found out security researchers Billy Hoffman (AKA Acidus) and Virgil Griffith (Virgil) were about to present a paper on security flaws involving its popular university ID card system, and called in its lawyers.

Blackboard is an enterprise software vendor specialising in education, with revenues during 2002 of $69.2 million.

Prior to the talk (due to take place on Saturday night), lawyers Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP sent conference organisers a "cease and desist order".

Because of the order, the talk on the shortcoming of the Blackboard Transaction System was called off.

The Blackboard Transaction System is used by many US universities; it enables institutions to manage student accounts, lets students spend their money on the Web or on campus using their student ID card. The system can be Web-enabled or integrated with campus equipment such as cash registers and vending machines.

Hoffman's Web site (www.yak.net/acidus), according to Blackboard's lawyers, detailed plans to "release code to make a computer emulate any Blackboard reader, as well as the hardware designs ... to make a drop in replacement for any Blackboard reader" during the talk. The site now points to the Interz0ne.com site.

Meanwhile Blackboard's lawyers have filled for an injunction and are threatening further legal action against Hoffman and Griffith for alleged violations of a raft of Federal laws.

These include: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Economic Espionage Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Wiretap Act, and the Consumer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Georgia's Computer Systems Protection Act.

The Blackboard Transaction System was developed following the November 2000 acquisition by Blackboard of AT&T CampusWide. ®

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