Kindle DRM reverse engineered

Posted on December 23rd, 2009 by bile
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An anonymous reader writes ”The Register reports that the proprietary document format used by the Amazon online store and Amazon’s Kindle has been successfully reverse engineered, allowing these DRM-protected documents to be converted into the open MOBI format. Users of alternative e-book readers rejoice.” Here are the hacker’s notes on the program he is calling “Unswindle,” and here is the (translated) forum where the Kindle challenge was posed and answered.

I’m posting this to use the occasion to mention that actions like this should be allowed but so too should Amazon be allowed to implement and attempt to enforce through service contracts their DRM strategies. One does not own the actions or property of another without prior agreement and a transfer of title. Therefore so called intellectual property statutes illegitimately restrict individuals from freely exercising the usage of their property. Amazon should be able to cancel an subscriptions or services associated with an individuals Kindle but not utilize the government to go after the creators of the crack or to seek damages for the breaking of copyright laws.

You can’t have it both ways: FSF not happy with Amazon’s usage of FOSS

Posted on June 19th, 2009 by bile
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As my colleague Michelle Menga is reporting, Amazon is now making new source code available for its Amazon Kindle. Basically what it represents is, Amazon’s responsibility to make the GPL licenced source code that is used in the Kindle available to others.

That’s part of the GPL license and Amazon is doing its part.

Digging into the code that Amazon is now making available, provides some really interesting insight into the underlying structure of the Kindle.

For one, Kindle (at least the DX) is using a modified Linux 2.6.22 kernel. This is a kernel that originally was released by Linus Torvalds in 2007. Is it a surprise that the Kindle is Linux powered? (not really).

Where there is LInux there are always some key Linux tools. In the Kindle’s case that’s the GCC 4.1.2 release for code compilation. In GCC terms that’s now an older release (originally out in 2006), so I would hope that Amazon moves to the newer GCC 4.4 over time as it could yield some performance gains for them.

Amazon is also using BusyBox (how can you not if you’re running embedded?), so it’s a good thing they’ve released that code – BusyBox has been active in recent years by way of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) in making sure that vendors that use their code actually comply with the GPL.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that those that back the GPL are entirely thrilled with Amazon. In fact the Free Software Foundation (FSF), actually refers to the Kindle (somewhat less than politely) as the ‘Swindle’.

“It’s good that Amazon is complying with the licenses and not behaving illegally, but this is hardly something praiseworthy,” John Sullivan operations manager at the FSF blogged. “Amazon benefited from the freedoms passed on to them by other free software authors, and that benefit comes with an obligation to convey that same freedom to their users — to share alike.”

This isn’t about all supporters of FOSS but the many who are anti DRM.

For those of you… you are inconsistent. DRM is based on copyright laws. Intellectual property is both the justification for government enforced DRM (like the DMCA) and free and open source licenses. If you can use the government to force Amazon to abide by the usage rules set by authors of the Kindle’s software then Amazon can use the government to force you to obey the rules regarding the hardware and media they provide you.

People like Richard Stallman don’t understand freedom in a consistent way. They want the ability to do what they like with the physical and digital things in their possession but use the threat of violence to make others unable to do the same. Intellectual property is not actual property and can not be owned. It is inalienable. Nontransferable. Scarcity only applies to it’s ability to be transferred and not itself. To threat or actually aggress against someone in order to keep a monopoly on an idea is just as illegitimate and ridiculous as waging a war on a tactic.

Trying to have it both ways is intellectually dishonest and antithesis to the rule of law or a free society. If you use the guns of government to create this artificial monopoly power you will forever be fighting for control over it.

Not to be out done by the UK, France steps up surveillance state

Posted on May 20th, 2009 by bile
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Having just passed its super-controversial Création et Internet “graduated response” law, you might think the French government would take at least a brief break from riling up the “internautes.” Instead, the government is prepping a new crime bill that will, among other things, mandate Internet censorship at the ISP level, legalize government spyware, and create a massive meta-database of citizen information called “Pericles.”

French newspaper Le Monde has the details on the new law, dubbed “Loppsi 2.” Together with the recent Dadvsi law (which banned DRM circumvention) and Création et Internet (which disconnects repeat online copyright infringers), Loppsi 2 will “fix” France’s various cybersecurity issues.

Think of the children

Loppsi 2 allows the state to install software that can “observe, collect, record, save, and transmit” keystrokes from computers on which it is installed. In essence, it allows for government-installed Trojans for a period of four months; a judge can extend this period for four months more.

In the US, the FBI has used similar techniques for several years, installing a program called CIPAV on suspects’ computers to record and transmit “pen register” data back to investigators.

Under Loppsi 2, French ISPs would also need to participate in a Web censorship regime that initially appears targeted at child pornography. Critics like Jean-Michel Planche, who advises the French government on Internet issues, are already calling the new bill the end of an open and neutral Internet.

Finally, the bill allows for a database called “Pericles” that can pull together information from various existing French databases to create a “super-dossier” on people. According to Le Monde, such a database could contain all sorts of crucial, personal information, and sounds certain to set off the same debates that have taken place in the US whenever similar projects have been floated.

Oh—and did we mention that Loppsi 2 funds all sorts of other crime-fighting techniques, including automated camera systems that record the license plates of cars passing by on the motorway?

Taken together, the Loppsi 2 draft shows just how serious the Sarkozy government is about getting some control over this crazy Internet thing that all the kids are using now. Actually, this is a situation playing out in most developed countries at the moment, and it’s not yet clear whether a global consensus will emerge on how to deal with law enforcement challenges on the ‘Net.

Numerous countries in Europe already run Internet child porn blacklists; massive government databases exist or are being developed just about everywhere; graduated response laws are slowly moving into the mainstream. France just seems more interested than most in adopting all of these ideas in the shortest possible timeframe.

DRM strikes down Obama’s gift to Gordon Brown

Posted on March 20th, 2009 by bile
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Alas, when the PM settled down to begin watching them the other night, he found there was a problem.

The films only worked in DVD players made in North America and the words “wrong region” came up on his screen. Although he mournfully had to put the popcorn away, he is unlikely to jeopardise the special relationship – or “special partnership”, as we are now supposed to call it – by registering a complaint.

A Downing Street spokesman said he was “confident” that any gift Obama gave Brown would have been “well thought through,” but referred me to the White House for assistance on the “technical aspects”.

A White House spokesman sniggered when I put the story to him and he was still looking into the matter when my deadline came last night.

By the way, when Obama’s unlikely gift was disclosed, a reader emailed me to ask if Clueless was among the films. Funnily enough, it was not.

Brown, on the other hand, presented a rather more thoughtful gift to the American President in the form of a penholder carved from the timbers of an anti-slavery ship. The sister ship, in fact, of the one that was broken up and turned into the desk in the Oval Office.

Good. The more often the ridiculous intellectual monopoly laws effect the political class the better.

Federal Trade Commission to scrutinize gaming DRM

Posted on January 7th, 2009 by bile
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Ars Technica reports that the FTC is getting ready to take a hard look at gaming DRM, setting up a town hall meeting to be held on March 25th. They’re currently recruiting panelists, and they say the meeting will, in part, “address the need to improve disclosures to consumers about DRM limitations.” The controversy over DRM came to a head in 2008 with the release of Spore and the multiple subsequent class-action lawsuits focusing on the SecuROM software that came with the game. Ars Technica says the town hall meeting will also look at “legal issues surrounding DRM” and “the potential need for government involvement to protect consumers.”

What horse shit. DRM is in no way something the government needs to be involved in. There is no protecting necessary. No one is harmed by DRM. DRM isn’t cutting people’s throats or stabbing their pets or stealing their Blu-Ray player. If the customer doesn’t want the product they don’t have to purchase it. Part of the product is the sellers attempts to restrict copying of the information stored on the CD, DVD, etc. Caveat emptor.

It is clear that this whole DRM thing is failing where it actually effects customers in a significant way. In fact it’s likely a vocal minority that’s actually leading to DRMs failure. Look what happened to the videogame Spore. Look at what Apple just announced yesterday. Many if not all of the providers of the music which they provide through their iTunes service have agreed to remove DRM from their songs. Most iTunes users however couldn’t care less. Seems fairly obvious given the populatity of iTunes and Apple products which must have been used (unless the DRM is broken) to play the purchased songs upto this point.

Until complete end to end solutions are created DRM will fail. Even with end to end solutions crackers and hackers will likely break the systems which they care about. The Xbox360 security is pretty good but a bug in the hypervisor allowed experts to break into the system. Blu-Ray, even with a dynamicly changing DRM system, has been continuously cracked.

While I disagree with patents, copyrights and trademarks and dislike DRM I fully support the property rights of the producer. If they wish to offer a product and that include methods to limit it’s use then so be it. The customer is fully in their right to not purchase it or purchase it and attempt to break those restrictions without fear of government interference.