Hackers break Amazon's Kindle DRM
The great ebook 'unswindle'
Updated Hackers from the US and Israel say they have broken copyright protections built in to Amazon's Kindle for PC, a feat that allows ebooks stored on the application to work with other devices.
The hack began as an open challenge in this (translated) forum for participants to come up with a way to make ebooks published in Amazon's proprietary format display on competing readers. Eight days later, users going by the handles Labba and i♥cabbages had a working program that did just that.
The hack is the latest to show the futility of digital rights management schemes, which more often than not inconvenience paying customers more than they prevent unauthorized copying.
Once upon a time, Apple laced its iTunes-purchased offerings with similar DRM restrictions that evoked major headaches when trying to do something as simple as transferring songs to a new PC. When reverse engineering specialist DVD Jon neutered the mechanism, that was the beginning of the end to the draconian regimen, which Apple called, ironically enough, Fairplay.
But most vendors don't bow so gracefully or quickly out of the reverse-engineering arms race. Witness, well, Apple, which regularly issues iPhone updates to thwart users who have the audacity to jailbreak the devices they own. Texas Instruments has also been known to take action against customers who reverse engineer calculators.
Amazon representatives have yet to indicate how they plan to respond. Queries put to a spokesman on Tuesday weren't returned.
According to a writeup of the Kindle hack here, Amazon engineers went to considerable lengths to prevent their DRM from being tampered with. The Kindle for PC uses a separate session key to encrypt and decrypt each book "and they seem to have done a reasonable job on the obfuscation," the author, i♥cabbages, says.
Labba and the US-based i♥cabbages, who declined to give his real name, discovered the attack vector independently around the same time. The resulting crack is a piece of software called unswindle, which was written by the latter hacker and is available here. It relies on reverse engineering from a hacker called darkreverser to discover the encryption algorithm used by the universal Mobipocket reader and most Kindle books.
Once unswindle is installed, proprietary Amazon ebooks can be converted into the open Mobi format. And from there, you can enjoy the content any way you like. ®
This article was updated to add details about collaboration between Labba and i♥cabbages.
As one of the engineers who worked on Kindle, I'd like to point out that most people at Amazon are pretty anti-DRM themselves - it's the PUBLISHERS who insisted on it, and we put in DRM so as to keep THEM happy, because without publishers, there are no books to sell. We knew full well that the device and DRM would be hacked eventually - the hope was that we could just stay ahead of them for long enough to prove the feasibility of selling books in this way to publishers.
going to hell
The current copyright system is going the way of the London Company of Stationers anyway, with 300 years of copyRIGHT getting flushed down the tubes. We've gone from "reasonable" copyright terms then addition to the public domain all the way to permanent copyright (100 years + whatever Disney can lobby for is, effectively, permanent. Especially when you factor in DRM), no ownership of works except by the publishers (such as "works for hire", a contract bit that's sneaking in more and more to author contracts and into the legislation itself), no more additions to the public domain (since 1923 in many cases thankyouverymuchyoubastards), and even a REDUCTION of the public domain as countries increase their copyright terms under US pressure to do so (again, thanks Disney for trying to "protect" a mouse that you fucking stole in the first place!).
An author does not need 100 years of copyright in order to be motivated to write more. Only certain scummy corporations whose entire early history was based solely on copying others are greedy enough and rich enough to shove that down everyones throats. Certain stolen mouse + Buster Keaton scripts comes to mind, or even re-copyrighting fairy tales that are LONG out of copyright, just like the London Company of Stationers could "own" the Aeneid. Fox Films and 20th Century also apparently had some issues, although I can no longer find the references.
As far as I'm concerned, breaking DRM and "violating" copyright has become a matter of civil disobedience to a system that's been completely turned around from system of copyRIGHT that protected authors and the public to a system of copySCREWYOU that only protects the wannabe inheritors of the London Company of Stationers.
I did not know that.
"Texas Instruments has also been known to take action against customers who reverse engineer calculators."
Thoses would be Polish notators I assume?