Defense for Xbox Modder Urges Fair Use

David Kravets at Wired has details of the first DMCA case dealing specifically with the practice of modding game consoles. Attorneys for David Crippen, who faces up to three years in jail, are urging the judge to allow a fair use defense. The basis of their argument is that installing a mod chip into a console to allow the playing of home brew games is no different than jail breaking a smart phone to allow installation of software other than what a vendor or carrier authorizes.  As part of the DMCA’s rather weak exceptions, jail breaking of smart phones was recently deemed a permissible circumvention, though with some heavy qualification.

I am really concerned over the prosecution’s objections.

Prosecutor Allen Chiu, however, wrote U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez that “any evidence relating to a ‘fair use’ defense is irrelevant and should be excluded.” Chiu said the defense’s reason for broaching fair use “would be to encourage jury nullification.”

How is fair use irrelevant when this is at its heart a copyright case? Sure, the DMCA doesn’t respect fair use the same way the pre-existing body of law does but courts are increasingly starting to separate consideration of anti-circumvention, which the DMCA criminalizes, from whether an actual infringement took place.

The case is being heard in a southern California court.  The defense may have a tougher time in Hollywood’s shadow making the fair use argument work but I hope that they are successful in doing so.

Citing iPhone Ruling, Xbox Defendant Says Mod Chips Are Fair Use, Wired

Uncrackable Android Phone Rooted After All

Lauren Weinstein has a good follow up to the mis-reported rootkit story from a month ago. The G2 handset, successor to the early G1 Android phone, included a firmware reset feature that re-installed the stock image if it detected changes, like rooting of the phone. Many after market customizations and improvements rely on rooting, or acquire full software privileges, of Android phones.

Lauren was one of the saner voices at that time, clarify what would have to be true for this vendor “feature” to qualify as an actual rootkit. What T-Mobile and HTC did to the G2 is at most a form of DRM. For it to have been a rootkit, it would have had to allow some user, local or remote, access they would not otherwise have. Attackers leave these kits behind to turn a one time crack into an asset with ongoing value. Weinstein’s objection to the imprecise usage was that it clouded the real issues here.

He also suggested that as dire as this protective measure might have seemed, the dedicate modder community would surmount it like every other challenge vendors and carriers have tried to erect to user’s exercising their owner override.

As it turns out, it was quickly established that the G2 was not using a firmware rewrite system, but rather was employing the protected mode of JEDEC Embedded MMC memory (eMMC). Temporary rooting of the device was possible from early on since the underlying Linux kernel was caching changes related to user root attempts, but the eMMC protection mechanism was preventing those changes from ever being successfully written to flash system memory — so all such changes were lost at the next boot of the phone.

Lauren clearly followed this development quite closely. There are more details, if you are curious, in his blog post. The takeaway is both that this type of enclosure is almost certainly doomed to failure. Choice is a strong enough motivator for someone to come up with a way to open a device to exercise it.

“Uncrackable” G2 Android Phone Successfully and Permanently Rooted — and Why This Matters! Vortex

feeds | grep links > Rig for Recording the Police, Feds Seek to Block XBox Hacker’s Testimony, and More

Feeling under the weather so just a few interesting links offered without comment.

Following Up for the Week Ending 10/17/2010

Unspoofable Device Identity Using Flash Memory

Slashdot links to a Security Week article about some fascinating research into using the near impossible to replicate pattern of errors in NAND flash memory to uniquely identify a device. The author at Security Week, Markus Jakobsson, very cannily likens this to the trusted computing modules with which Intel and others experimented a few years back.

In 1998, Intel announced the introduction of processor identities. Anti-fraud practitioners celebrated, security experts busied themselves thinking of the research implications, and privacy advocates were terrified.

In the end, Intel cancelled the processor identity plans. Unfortunately, I would say, given how fraud has mushroomed. As a result, machines are identified in other ways – but not so well.

He overlooks what I think was the stronger driver behind these earlier efforts. There are good uses of trusted computing, ones that augment a user’s control and capabilities. But it was the promise of much stronger DRM to extend control by content makers into consumers’ computers that seemed to animate the original efforts. This new method is passive, thankfully, so should place more control with the owner of the device, even if the idea that the identity produced is nearly impossible to mask. One would hope it would better serve user empowerment over outside control.

Another implication that the article doesn’t explore is how this might affect the state of play with behavioral tracking online. Again, requiring software to expose the fingerprint means it is more likely that a user would have to actively allow identification. But how many malware plagues are unleashed en masse because of a simple promise of some digital goodies in exchange for one little browser plugin install?

My final thought is how this is so strikingly similar to a couple of other stories I’ve read recently. Those dealt with the unique noise introduced by power transmission into recordings and other applications. Together with this work I think it points to an emerging trend where more capabler sensing and analysis is teasing out some latent qualities, for good or ill, in what was formerly deemed mere noise.

Unspoofable Device Identity Using Flash Memory, Slashdot

Following Up for the Week Ending 10/3/2010

feeds | grep links > Newton on an iPad, More Softening of Apple Policies, PostgrSQL 9.0 Released, and More

  • Newton on an iPad
    Ht @stephenjayl. The link, which I also saw on Hacker News, is to a write up on the latest fun with a pre-existing project, Einstein, that runs Newton OS on modern hardware via emulation. Earlier this month, the code was ported to iOS and the poster has embedded a video of it running on his iPad. I only ever had one on loan and enjoyed using it. My enjoyment of nostalgic computing and specifically the MessagePad overrides my current irritation with Apple enough that if I had a compatible device, I might try running this.
  • Google Voice app approved in Apple’s app store
    As Slashdot explains, it isn’t the first app that was infamously approved, rejected, and then removed from the store. However, Google Voice Mobile is apparently in the process of being re-submitted and re-considered. As with the changes in Apple’s developer agreement, this signals a softening of policies, most likely because of complaints resulting in FTC scrutiny.
  • Modders bring emulation, homebrew games to PS3, Slashdot
  • Swedish Pirate Party fails to retain seat in parliament, The Register
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein source code released, Slashdot
  • iPhone app piracy tool, source code up for sale, ReadWriteWeb
  • PostgreSQL 9.0 released
    The H has the new features in this release that has been backing for a while. One of the most interesting is replication. It answers my questions, as a long time user of the database server, on how the feature works. It is targeted at hot standby, easing the replication of the write ahead log, so it is distinct from the kind of replication performed by newer, post-relational databases.
  • Europe proposes international internet treaty, Slashdot

HDCP Master Key Leaked

If you’ve been reading or listening to me for any length of time, you will have some sense of how thrilled I am by this news. HDCP is the DRM scheme embedded into HDMI, the sole choice we have for most consume audio-video gear like Blu-ray players, surround sound receivers, and high definition televisions. I held out against buying an HD capable set because of HDCP and felt very badly when I finally caved.

As Cory at BoingBoing notes, now with this master key, device hackers and mere enthusiasts can cobble together their own media devices for format shifting, capturing and streaming. As always, I have to clarify that I do not condone or endorse commercial piracy but I do object strenuously to overbearing tools, like HDCP, that do not help ensure that artists get rewarded for their works and ultimately only frustrate and punish regular people who would like to make personal use copies within their own homes or households.

This news also continues the validation of the idea that new DRM system will ever be unbreakable. As Cory notes, for DRM to work, keys have to be shared. Each time a cryptographic key, usually a comparably small bit of data, is shared its security is diluted. In all cases so far, breaking of DRM has only been a matter of patience.

If you are curious to know more, Ars Technica has some more details on how HDCP works, came into existence, and may have been cracked.

HDCP master-key leaks, possible to make unrestricted Blu-Ray recorders, BoingBoing

feeds | grep links > More License Options at Google Code, Piracy as an Excuse for Censorship, Gaming Does Rewire Your Brain, and More

Following Up for the Week Ending 9/12/2010