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Cryptome escapes Thales' attack dogs in bank security row

Global giant pulls DMCA nastygram, swears it wasn't stifling research

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Defence giant Thales has withdrawn its demand for the removal of banking security documents from whistle-blowing website Cryptome.

The global corporation filed a DMCA* takedown notice last week citing copyright infringement: two of its manuals for cryptographic equipment have been available from Cryptome since 2003.

Ross Anderson, a professor in security engineering at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, fired a broadside at Thales earlier this week arguing that the action amounted to attempted censorship. The manuals documented the software interfaces between hardware security modules in cash machines and other equipment, an important thread of research in banking security.

"API security has been a goldmine for security researchers, it’s been an embarrassment for the industry, in which Thales is one of two dominant players. Hence the attempt to close down our mine," Anderson explained. The computer science expert went on to argue that removing the long-standing resource would hamper competition as well as inhibiting research, comparing the case to the ill-fated Lexmark DMCA case against Static Control Components.

In response, Thales conceded that the DMCA takedown nastygram was a mistake and withdrew it. Rather than seek to inhibit research into banking security Thales was only seeking the removal of and out-of-date and obsolete resource, the security firm said in a statement.

Thales is in no way trying to censor information that would benefit banking security research.

The information concerned, as has been noted, has been available since 2003 and is in fact obsolete. It also does not reflect the current Thales payment hardware security module.

It is not unusual for Thales to suggest that out-of-date information is removed from web sites so that it doesn’t cause confusion or mislead our customers.

This would normally be handled with a polite request to the web site owner; on this occasion, unfortunately, we were over zealous in initiating a takedown notice. That notice is being withdrawn, and we would like to apologise to the site owner of Cryptome for the distress it caused.

Thales fully appreciates the benefits of openly sharing information relating to our security products and fully supports legitimate academic research in this area. The most up-to-date and accurate information can be obtained directly from Thales.

Thales added that its e-Security division is actively involved in key technical forums such as ASC X9, Global Platform, NACHA, PCI SSC, Smart Card Alliance and OASIS, all of which contribute to banking security research. A letter sent to John Young of Cryptome by Thales along the same lines as the statement it supplied to El Reg can be found here. ®

* The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

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