SciTechBlog
March 26, 2010

Man suspected of cracking Twitter accounts: 'I'm a nice hacker'

Posted: 10:42 AM ET

The man accused of cracking a Twitter database and peeking at the Twitter accounts of Barack Obama and Britney Spears said this week that he didn't mean harm, according to a French TV station.

He aimed to prove Twitter is vulnerable to attack.

"I'm not a hacker, or rather, I'm a nice hacker," he said, according to the France 3 station. (via AP)

The man, who is known by the nickname "Hacker Croll," is accused of stealing confidential documents from Twitter employees, and of looking in on the Twitter accounts of the U.S. president and celebrities, according to news reports. He was arrested on Tuesday by French police in cooperation with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. If convicted of hacking into a database, he could face up to two years in jail, according to the Agence-France Presse news agency.

The ordeal caught the public's attention in July, when a man calling himself Hacker Croll sent confidential documents from Twitter employees to the technology blog TechCrunch, which decided to publish some of the stolen documents.

What do you think about Hacker Croll's statement? Is there anything laudable about breaking into a system to uncover its faults? Can a person actually be a "good hacker?" Let us know in the comments section.

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Filed under: hacking • piracy • Security • technology • Twitter


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January 26, 2010

Hacker says he's unlocked the PS3

Posted: 03:35 PM ET

More than three years after its initial release, the PlayStation 3 has allegedly been hacked.

George Hotz, aka "GeoHot," recently announced the feat on his blog. "I have read/write access to the entire system memory, and HV level access to the processor. In other words, I have hacked the PS3."

The practice of hacking or "modding" a video game console is fairly common. Directions to modify the Xbox and Xbox 360, and even instructional videos, can be found online. But the PS3 has remained largely secure.

"It's supposed to be unhackable - but nothing is unhackable," Hotz told BBC News.

Hotz, a 20-year-old American who is famous for his iPhone jailbreaking and unlocking software, has not yet released the PS3 exploit, but claims updates are coming.

Unlike cell-phone unlocking (which receives an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), bypassing the DRM security of a video game system can be considered a violation of the DMCA, and "modders" have been arrested for circumventing anti-piracy measures in the past.

While speaking with BBC news, Hotz admitted the hack could allow people to run pirated games or homemade software, but says his motivation was primarily curiosity at "opening up the system."

"To tell you the truth, I've never really played a PS3," he said. "I have one game, but I've never really played it."

Update (1/27/10):

Hotz has decided to release the PS3 exploit on his blog: http://geohotps3.blogspot.com/

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Filed under: DRM • Gaming • iPhone • piracy


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December 16, 2009

Justin.tv defends live streaming video

Posted: 10:19 AM ET

The CEO of the popular live video site Justin.tv has been invited to testify before the House Judiciary Committee today on the topic of live sports online.

A user streams ESPNHD live on Justin.tv

A user streams ESPNHD live on Justin.tv

Justin.tv claims it is "the leader in live video and the place to broadcast and share video online." The problem, as Congress sees it, is that too many of those users choose to share copyrighted content.

I'll admit that I am a chief offender. I have tuned to Justin.tv several times in the past to watch college football games that I could not get on Comcast. The video quality is poor and I have to watch the game on my computer screen, but it beats waiting for the ESPN highlights.

Twice during a recent Tennessee game the broadcast copyright owner filed a DMCA takedown notice and the stream I was watching was removed. However, copyright owners cannot police an entire social network. The Tennessee feed I was watching had been removed, but I had dozens of other user-generated streams of the game to watch.

Janko Roettgers of newteevee.com calls live streaming "the latest battleground between sports fans that don’t want to pay subscription fees and broadcasters trying to protect their content online."

Justin.tv's online blog highlights partnerships the site has made with many copyright owners, and CEO Michael Seibel will likely insist that the company is involved in fighting piracy during today's hearing. But Mike Masnick at TechDirt doesn't see the problem.

The ability to "live stream" is something that's almost entirely brand new, and it really does change the way people can interact. But, live streaming will almost always create some sort of "copyright infringement" or "piracy," which suggests the real problem isn't with live streaming, but with copyright laws.

Whatever your opinion, today's hearing will provide an interesting look at the fight between producers who want strict control over their content and social networks that encourage sharing.

Watch the hearing on C-Span.

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Filed under: DRM • file sharing • Internet • online news • piracy


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November 30, 2009

Mac-cloner Psystar loses Apple lawsuit

Posted: 12:02 PM ET

Apple has won its copyright-infringement claim against the Mac cloning company Psystar.

Psystar sold PCs that ran Apple's OS X software. The computers functioned essentially the same as standard Macs, but were sold for less than Apple-built machines. Psystar argued that since the OS X software was legally purchased, the right of first sale allowed them to resell the operating system on custom-built computers.

However, the courts sided with Apple (pdf), and agreed that "customers were contractually precluded from utilizing Mac OS X on any computer hardware system that was not an Apple computer system." In addition, Psystar circumvented "lock-and-key technological measures to prevent Mac OS X from operating on non-Apple computers," which violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Groklaw provides analysis of the court order and concludes:

That means damages ahead for Psystar on the copyright issues just decided on summary judgment, at a minimum. The court asked for briefs on that subject. In short, Psystar is toast.

The court's message is clear: EULAs mean what they say; if you don't want to abide by its license, leave Apple's stuff alone.

Psystar, which is also fighting a second infringement case in Florida, will likely appeal the decision, but for now it looks like you Snow Leopard fans will be forced to stick with Apple-approved computers. Or build your own Hackintosh.

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Filed under: Apple • computers • online news • piracy


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October 19, 2009

Internet service provider fights copyright law

Posted: 08:39 AM ET

A proposed law could force UK Internet service providers to disconnect users who repeatedly share copyrighted files, but TalkTalk, a British ISP, doesn't want to become a copyright cop.

UK Internet service provider TalkTalk CEO Charles Dunstone

UK Internet service provider TalkTalk CEO Charles Dunstone

TalkTalk's CEO Charles Dunstone is openly critical of legislation that will force ISPs to disconnect a user if their IP address is connected to illegal downloads:

If you try speed humps or disconnections for peer-to-peer, people will simply either disguise their traffic or share the content another way. It is a game of Tom and Jerry and you will never catch the mouse. The mouse always wins in this battle and we need to be careful that politicians do not get talked into putting legislation in place that, in the end, ends up looking stupid.

A recent demonstration by the ISP highlights cracks in the proposed legislation. For the stunt, TalkTalk sent a security expert into the streets of Stanmore, Middlesex to connect to open or easily hacked WEP-secured wireless networks. The expert first obtained permission from the wireless access point owners before connecting and downloading several songs.

While the songs in this demonstration were downloaded legally, the stunt shows just how easily an innocent account holder could be targeted based on evidence collected from their IP address.

However, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) claims the law will not target innocents. BPI spokesman Adam Liversage says, "The responsibility for ensuring that an internet account shared throughout a household is not being used for illegal file-sharing clearly lies with the account holder."

What do you think? Are hacking victims or those who choose to openly share their wireless network responsible for third-party illegal file-sharing? And should ISPs like TalkTalk be required to police their networks and report illegal activity?

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • online news • piracy


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September 16, 2009

Does the U.S. need tougher copyright laws?

Posted: 11:22 AM ET

A new report by the World Economic Forum (pdf) ranks United States intellectual property (IP) protections 19th in a worldwide survey. The rank was not based on a comparison of IP laws, but determined by a survey of global business leaders on how well they felt intellectual property was protected in their country.

The US Chamber of Commerce responds to the U.S.'s 19th-place finish by calling for greater IP protection and stricter copyright laws.

For a country whose economy is driven by innovation and creativity, where nearly half of the exports are from IP-based industries, and over $5 trillion of our GDP is based on IP, America should be setting the gold standard for IP rights and protections.

Ars Technica argues tougher IP laws are "largely a giveaway to huge businesses and rich artists," and claims most artists see less than 1 percent of the financial benefits of copyright extensions.

Artists and producers undoubtedly deserve compensation for their work. But is more "protection," which restricts fair use, encourages DRM and decreases public domain, always a good thing?

Nate Anderson of Ars Technica doesn't think so:

Reports like this come out, trade groups argue that their countries all need to do a better job of "catching up" to the first-place finisher, laws are passed, IP systems are tightened up, and a new number one country emerges. Everyone else then tries to reach this "new level."

It's a one-way system of ever-increasing control coupled with moral opprobrium for not agreeing that the only direction IP protection must go is up.

Do you feel more laws are needed to protect intellectual property in America? Or will further restrictions only stifle innovation and prevent a free flow of information?

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Filed under: DRM • Internet • online news • piracy


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September 9, 2009

Pirated copy of District 9 posted online

Posted: 12:41 PM ET

A DVD-quality copy of the sci-fi blockbuster "District 9" was posted to file-trading networks over Labor Day weekend. According to TorrentFreak.com, the movie was downloaded over one million times within the first 24 hours.

Downloads of "District 9" are likely to exceed the leaked workprint of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," which News Corp. President and COO Peter Chernin claimed in May had been downloaded over 4 million times.

Most movies are available on the Internet within a few days of their release, but the quality of these early leaks is typically poor and all but the most prolific pirates avoid them.

The "District 9" release is described as an R5 copy, or a retail DVD sold in Region 5 - Eastern Europe, India, Africa, North Korea and Mongolia. Studios release R5 DVDs early and without any special features or image processing in an effort to compete with bootlegs in areas where piracy is prevalent. The R5 copies are not meant for sale in any other region but that doesn't stop them from being distributed on the Internet.

The popularity of "District 9" among an admittedly geeky online subculture and a high-quality early release have attracted millions of downloaders. Executives at Sony Pictures, which is distributing the film, are probably cringing at these numbers, but any effect on box-office sales has not yet been reported.

Don't shed too many tears for Sony Pictures, though. The film, which reportedly cost less than $30 million to make, has already earned over $100 million at North American theaters.

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • Movies • piracy


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August 5, 2009

Student arrested for 'modding' Xbox consoles

Posted: 09:53 AM ET

Homeland Security officers arrested Cal State Fullerton student Michael Crippen on Monday for modifying Xbox video game consoles to play copied games.

The practice of "modding" a video game console is fairly common. Directions to modify the Xbox and Xbox 360, and even instructional videos, can be found online.

Xbox "modders" defend their actions by claiming the game console is personal property and that modification is necessary to upgrade console hard drives or play legal backups of games they already own.

However, bypassing DRM security is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which states, "no person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title."

In an indictment provided by Wired.com, authorities claim Crippen "willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage and private financial gain, circumvented a technological measure that effectively controlled access to a copyrighted work, more particularly, used software to modify a Xbox machine's Optical Disc drive so it would circumvent anti-piracy measures contained on the original unmodified Optical Disc Drive."

Speaking to Wired.com's Threat Level blog, Crippen admits he modified consoles for $30 a job, but claims “This is for your legally made backups. If you’re talking about piracy, I’m not helping you out.”

Crippen faces two counts of violating the DMCA and the possibility of ten years in prison. He is currently free on $5,000 bond.

Crippen was targeted by the federal government for allegedly running a console-modifying business out of his house. But what do you think of people who modify their Xboxes for personal use? Should modding be illegal simply because it could result in piracy, despite other legal applications?

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Filed under: consumer tech • DRM • Games • Microsoft Corp. • piracy


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June 30, 2009

Has the Pirate Bay given up piracy?

Posted: 10:02 AM ET

The Pirate Bay, a Swedish file-sharing Web site used by millions to exchange movies and music, is reportedly being sold to the Swedish company Global Gaming Factory X AB for nearly $8 million.

The Pirate Bay, a Swedish file-sharing Web site used by millions to exchange movies and music, is reportedly being sold to the Swedish company Global Gaming Factory.

A blog posted on thepiratebay.org Tuesday morning says rumors of the sale are true:

We've been working on this project for many years. It's time to invite more people into the project, in a way that is secure and safe for everybody... The profits from the sale will go into a foundation that is going to help with projects about freedom of speech, freedom of information and the openess of the nets.

The Pirate Bay and its founders have been under legal attack from copyright owners for years. While the Web site does not host copyrighted content, it does host millions of torrent files which enable peer-to-peer file-trading. Many of these torrent files point to copyrighted material.

In April four of the Website's co-founders were convicted of collaborating to violate copyright law and sentenced to one year in jail as well as ordered to pay $3.6 million in damages to several major media companies.

A press release from Global Gaming Factory suggests, following the sale, the Pirate Bay is done with piracy:

Following the completion of the acquisitions, GGF intends to launch new business models that allow compensation to the content providers and copyright owners. The responsibility for, and operation of the site will be taken over by GGF in connection with closing of the transaction, which is scheduled for August 2009.

There are hundreds of competing Websites that offer copyright infringing torrents, but it appears the Pirate Bay, which once claimed a spot on the Web's top 100, will no longer be among them. The site claims more than 3.5 million registered users.

The news made Pirate Bay one of the top trending topics on Twitter Tuesday morning, with many tweets mourning the sale. "The Pirate Bay walks the plank for new biz model," said one Twitterer.

Will the sale of the Pirate Bay mean an end to free copyrighted material for all? And can Global Gaming Factory monetize a site that is based on piracy?

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • online news • piracy


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June 19, 2009

Downloading mom fined $80,000 per song

Posted: 11:17 AM ET

After deliberating for only a few hours, the jury in Jammie Thomas-Rasset's federal retrial found the 32-year-old Minnesota mother liable for willfully infringing the copyrights of 24 songs she downloaded off the Web and awarded record labels $1.92 million.

24 cases of copyright infringement will cost a Minnesota woman $1.9 million, a jury has decided.

24 cases of copyright infringement will cost a Minnesota woman $1.9 million, a jury has decided.

Thomas-Rasset stood accused of using the file-sharing service KaZaA to download and share music illegally after RIAA investigators at MediaSentry linked several complete song downloads to Thomas-Rasset's computer. While the RIAA initially offered to settle the case for $5,000, Thomas-Rasset insisted she had never heard of KaZaA and decided to fight the charges in court.

The RIAA has sued thousands in its legal campaign against file sharing, but, according to her attorneys, Jammie Thomas-Rasset's case was the first such copyright infringement case to go to trial in the United States. When faced with the astronomical penalties detailed in the Copyright Act, from $750 to $150,000 per infringement, most of those sued accepted settlements from the RIAA for only a few thousand dollars.

Despite a vigorous defense from lawyers Kiwi Camara and Joe Sibley and tearful testimony by Jamie Thomas-Rasset, the jury concluded that she willfully infringed on 24 copyrights and awarded labels $80,000 per infringement.

While I was not particularly shocked by the guilty verdict, the jury's decision to award damages of $1.92 million is rather mind-blowing. The financial ruin this fine will likely cause Ms. Thomas-Rasset is substantially greater than the criminal penalties she might have faced had she stolen the physical CDs.

How do you feel about the verdict? Should the civil penalties outlined in the Copyright Act apply to private citizens who are not downloading and distributing copyrighted material for financial gain?

And before I plow through dozens of comments declaring, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime," consider lawyer Joe Sibley's closing arguments to the jury, paraphrased here:

If the labels can sue Thomas-Rasset, they can sue any of you. "This could happen to any of us." If a kid, or a friend's kid, downloads some songs on a computer at home, any person could just as easily be on trial with the same evidence against them.

Ars Technica provided excellent coverage of the four-day trial:

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • piracy


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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