The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a horrible piece of legislation that we’ve been living with for sixteen years now. In addition to establishing a de-facto copyright for the design of boat hulls (don’t get us started!), the DMCA includes a Section 1201 which criminalizes defeating encryption in cases where such could be used to break copyright law.
Originally intended to stop the rampant copying of music in the Napster era, it’s been abused to prevent users from re-filling their inkjet cartridges and to cover up rootkits. In short, it’s scope has vastly exceeded its original aims. And we take it personally, because we like to take stuff apart and see how it works.
The only bright light in this otherwise dark, dark tunnel is the possibility to petition for exemptions to Section 1201 for certain devices and purposes. Just a few days ago, the EFF won a slew of DMCA exemptions, including the contentious exemption for bypassing automobiles’ encryption to check out what’s going on in the car’s firmware. The obvious relevance of the ability for researchers to inspect cars’ firmware in light of the VW scandal may have helped overcome strong pushback from the car manufacturers and the EPA.
The other exemption that caught our eye was the renewal of protection for people who need to hack old video games to keep them playable, jailbreak phones so that you can run an operating system of your choosing on it, and even the right to copy content from a DVD for remixes and excerpts.
This is all good stuff, but it’s a little bit sad that the EFF has to beg every three years to enable us all to do something that wasn’t illegal until the DMCA was written. But don’t take my word for it, have a listen to Cory Doctorow’s much more eloquent rant.
(Banner image courtesy [Kristoffer Smith], who we covered on car hacking way back when.)
A lot of questions have been raised by the recent “dieselgate” scandal. Should automakers be held accountable for ethically questionable actions? Are emissions standards in the United States too restrictive? Are we ever going to stop appending “gate” onto every mildly controversial news story? But, for Hackaday readers, the biggest question is most likely “how did they get away with it?” The answer is probably because of a law a lot of hackers are already familiar with: the DMCA.
If you haven’t seen the news about Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scheme, we’ll get you caught up quickly. In the United States, EPA emissions testing is done in a very specific and predictable way. Using clever ECU software tricks, Volkswagen was able to essentially “detune” the engines of their diesel vehicles when they were being tested by the EPA. This earned them passing marks, while allowing them to provide a less-restrictive ECU profile for the normal driving that buyers would actually experience.
How could they get away with this simple trick when a brief look at the ECU software would have revealed it? Because, they were able to hide under the umbrella of the DMCA. The ECU software is, of course, not intended to be user-accessible, which means that Volkswagen is allowed to lock it down. That, in turn, means that the EPA isn’t allowed to circumvent that security without violating the DMCA and potentially breaking the law. This kept the EPA’s hands tied, and Volkswagen protected. They were only found out because independent testing (that didn’t follow EPA procedure) revealed vastly different emissions levels.
Is your blood boiling yet? Add this to the stack of reasons why the EFF is trying to end the DRM parts of the DMCA.
[Mary Ann Davidson], chief security officer of Oracle, is having a bad Tuesday. The internet has been alight these past few hours over a blog post published and quickly taken down from oracle’s servers. (archive) We’re not 100% sure the whole thing isn’t a hack of some sort. Based on [Mary’s] previous writing though, it seems to be legit.
The TL;DR version of Mary’s post is that she’s sick and tired of customers reverse engineering Oracle’s code in an attempt to find security vulnerabilities. Doing so is a clear violation of Oracle’s license agreement. Beyond the message, the tone of the blog says a lot. This is the same sort of policy we’re seeing on the hardware side from companies like John Deere and Sony. Folks like [Cory Doctorow] and the EFF are doing all they can to fight it. We have to say that we do agree with [Mary] on one point: Operators should make sure their systems are locked down with the latest software versions, updates, and patches before doing anything else.
[Mary] states that “Bug bounties are the new boy band”, that they simply don’t make sense from a business standpoint. Only 3% of Oracles vulnerabilities came from security researchers. The rest come from internal company testing. The fact that Oracle doesn’t have a bug bounty program might have something to do with that. [Mary] need not worry. Bug Bounty or not, she’s placed her company squarely in the cross-hairs of plenty of hackers out there – white hat and black alike.
If you weren’t at [Cory Doctorow’s] DEF CON talk on Friday you missed out. Fighting Back in the War on General Purpose Computing was inspiring, informed, and incomparable. At the very lowest level his point was that it isn’t the devices gathering data about us that is the big problem, it’s the legislation that makes it illegal for us to make them secure. The good news is that all of the DEF CON talks are recorded and published freely. While you wait for that to happen, read on for a recap and to learn how you can help the EFF fix this mess.
Continue reading “Cory Doctorow Rails Against the Effect of DRM and the DMCA”
It’s 9AM on any given Sunday. You can be found in your usual spot – knee-deep in wires and circuit boards. The neighbor’s barking dog doesn’t grab your attention as you pry the cover off of a cell phone, but the rustling of leaves by the back door does. Seconds later, several heavily armed SWAT officers bust in and storm your garage. You don’t have time to think as they throw your down on the cold, hard concrete floor. You’re gripped by a sharp stinging pain as one of the officers puts his knee in the square of your back. Seconds later, you’re back on your feet being lead to the back of an awaiting police cruiser. You catch the gaze of one of your neighbors and wonder what they might be thinking as your inner voice squeaks: “What did I do wrong?”
The answer to this question would come soon enough. Your crime – hacking your dad’s tractor.
“That’s like saying locking up books will inspire kids to be innovative writers, because they won’t be tempted to copy passages from a Hemingway novel.”
John Deere is trying to convince the Copyright Office that farmers don’t really own the tractors they buy from them. They argue that the computer code that runs the systems is not for sale, and that purchasers of the hardware are simply receiving “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”
In order to modify or “hack” any type of software, you have to copy it first. Companies don’t like the copying thing, so many put locks in place to prevent this. But because hackers are hackers, we can easily get past their childish attempts to keep code and information out of our hands. So now they want to make it illegal. John Deere is arguing that if it is legal for hackers to copy and modify their software, that it could lead to farmers listening to pirated music while plowing a corn field. No I am not making this up — dig into this 25-page facepalm-fest (PDF) written by John Deere and you’ll be just as outraged.
Trying to keep hackers out using the DMCA act is not new. Many companies argue that locking hackers out helps to spur innovation. When in fact the opposite is true. What about 3D printers, drones, VR headsets…all from us! The Copyright Office, after holding a hearing and reading comments, will make a decision in July on whether John Deere’s argument has any merit.
Let us know what you think about all this. Can hackers and the free market learn to live in harmony? We just want to fix our tractor!
Thanks to [Malachi] for the tip!
Last week we published a post about how it was discovered through trial and error that Tektronix application modules are designed with laughable security. We’ll get to that part of it in a minute. We received a DMCA Takedown Notice from Tektronix (which you can read after the break) demanding that we remove the post. We have altered the original post, but we believe our coverage of this story is valid and we don’t agree that the post should be completely removed.
First off, Tektronix sells the modules to unlock the features already present on the Oscilloscope in questions. We’re operating on the moral assumption that using these features without paying their asking price is wrong. If you want the features they’ve developed you should pay for them.
The real story here is that Tektronix designed a woefully weak system for unlocking these modules. Learn from this. If you’re ever designing a hardware key, don’t do it like this!
An EEPROM, a connector, and a plain text string of characters which is already published publicly on their website is all that is necessary to unlock these “crippled” features. Let’s just say that again: apparently every hardware key is the same and just uses a plain-text string found on their website which is not encrypted or obfuscated. If you were selling these keys for $2.99 perhaps this would be adequate, but Tek values these modules at $500 apiece.
If you were designing this system wouldn’t it be worth using an encryption key pair based on the serial number or some other piece of unique information? How do you think this should have been done? Leave your comment below.
Continue reading “Hardware “Security” and a DMCA Takedown Notice”
So you’ve been rooting devices eh? If you get caught you’re headed for the big house, the lockup, the pen, the joint, they’ll send you up the river, you better be careful! Seriously though, if you buy a device and circumvent the security features should that in itself be breaking the law? We’re not talking about stealing intellectual property, like playing copied games on a chipped system (yeah, that’s stealing). We mean unlocking a device so that you can use it for what you wish. Be it your own prototyping, or running open-source applications. Unfortunately if the current Digital Millennium Copyright Act exemptions expire it will be a crime.
Thankfully, [Bunnie] is doing something about this. You may remember him as the guy that found most of the ridiculous security holes in the original Xbox, or the brain behind the Chumby. Now’s he’s got an online petition where your voice can be heard. Speak up and let the US politicians know why unlocking a device isn’t a crime.