Report: Programmer said to break MS e-book code

An anonymous programmer has found a way to decrypt Microsoft Corp. Reader e-books, according to an article on the Web site of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) magazine.

Microsoft Reader was launched in August 2000 and has been downloaded by over a million people, according to Technology Review, the MIT publication. 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 comes with 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. This key is obtained by activation of the software, which requires the reader to register for a Microsoft Passport account. As only two copies of Reader can be activated under one Passport account, the buyer can only read 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 said.

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 said.

The programmer, a U.S.-based cryptography expert, said 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 said.

Microsoft was not immediately available for comment.

The argument is split between those who say such strict rules 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.

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Gillian Law

Computerworld

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