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Programmer breaks into Microsoft's e-books

PC World

By Gillian Law

(IDG) -- An anonymous programmer has found a way to decrypt Microsoft Reader e-books, according to a report published August 31 on the Web site of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology magazine.

Microsoft Reader was launched in August 2000 and has been downloaded by over a million people, according to Technology Review. To prevent widespread copying of files, as has happened with MP3 files in the music industry, Microsoft Reader has built-in antipiracy features.

Each e-book includes one of three levels of copy protection, specified by the publisher. Premium titles come with owner-exclusive protection and are encrypted during download using a unique mathematical key contained in the buyer's Microsoft Reader software. INFOCENTER
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Getting a Passport

The key is obtained by activation of the software, which requires the reader to register for a Microsoft Passport account. Because only two copies of Reader can be activated under one Passport account, the buyer is limited to reading the e-book on two devices.

Users say this stops them from reading the books where and when they choose, and also makes the file vulnerable; hardware upgrades, for example, can invalidate the activation key needed to break the encryption on a file, Technology Review says.

The decryption software works by recovering the encryption keys specific to an activated copy of Reader and to the e-book in question. It then reverses the process of putting the e-book together, separating it into source files such as text and images and putting new, unprotected copies of those files into a folder on the user's computer, Technology Review says.

Not Going Public

The programmer, a U.S.-based cryptography expert, says he has no intention of distributing the software, and wrote it purely for his own use. However, his announcement that decryption is possible has brought renewed focus to the debate on digital rights management and the future of e-book technology, the report says.

Microsoft was not immediately available for comment.

The argument is split between those who say restrictions will prevent e-book technology becoming popular, and those who want to protect the publishing industry from a Napster-style file-sharing scenario.

Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian programmer, is currently facing up to 25 years in prison for writing similar software that strips copy protection from Adobe e-book files.

• Technology Review

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