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Amazon Kindle Proprietary Format Broken 203

Posted by kdawson
from the let-a-thousand-e-books-bloom dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Register reports that the proprietary document format used by the Amazon online store and Amazon's Kindle has been successfully reverse engineered, allowing these DRM-protected documents to be converted into the open MOBI format. Users of alternative e-book readers rejoice." Here are the hacker's notes on the program he is calling "Unswindle," and here is the (translated) forum where the Kindle challenge was posed and answered.
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Amazon Kindle Proprietary Format Broken

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  • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @05:38AM (#30533902)
    I'd suggest converting every book you own really fucking quick. No telling how long it will take Amazon to make a similar format that will take another year or so to break. You can bet that once they do, they'll remotely switch everyone's ebooks over to that new format and then push a firmware upgrade to ensure compliance.
  • DRM broken? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @05:42AM (#30533910)

    DMCA notification in 3, 2, 1...

  • by AHuxley (892839) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @06:05AM (#30533958) Homepage Journal
    No more getting Jeff Bezos'ed 1984 style.
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/18/amazon_removes_1984_from_kindle/ [theregister.co.uk]
  • by Mathinker (909784) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @06:32AM (#30534040) Journal

    Just like with music, the publishers have to be convinced that DRM is worthless (as it actually is for the vast majority of text) so that we will eventually be able to buy non-DRMed ebooks.

    This is just one tiny step on that path. The publishers haven't even gotten to the "if we sue them piracy will be controlled" stage yet. One wonders if they will understand its futility and skip it.

  • Yeah. Right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @06:36AM (#30534050)

    More like; "Amazon-dot-com and shareholders rejoice, as more people can now read your files, therefore you make more money from increased e-book sales."

    You really think so? You figure the hackers were disgruntled Amazon shareholders working to increase their quarterly dividends? My perception is that this will result in increased piracy, i.e., distribution through non-authorized channels from whom the authors of the books are not compensated.

  • by dangitman (862676) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @06:55AM (#30534114)

    For the most part, they loose money on each ebook sale.

    Huh? Amazon often sells e-books for as much (or even more) than the price of a printed book. Seeing as there are no costs for storage and shipping, the profits should be larger than on printed books. From where do you get this idea that Amazon loses money on e-book sales?

  • by hAckz0r (989977) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @07:31AM (#30534200)
    If DRM is not locked inside of a closed black metal box, with anti-tamper seals, then it can always be reverse engineered. Once Kindle readers became available on the PC I knew it would be a matter of time before the DRM format was broken and utilities made available. What did surprise me here was that much headway had already been made by the ones hacking the Kindle hardware/OS already. The DRM had long been defeated. The sad part is that the people that pay for all that DRM 'technology' (the people who buy the DRM'ed books) are never going to be able to easily use the great software such as Calibre, which could make managing all these devices so much easier, sans the DRM. The legal aspects with circumventing DRM will always prevent the ability to have a ubiquitous software platform capable of reading any format that happens to be available from any publisher. I for one would buy much more from any publisher who would publish 'real books' (i.e. not best sellers list only) in a format I can really use. One day they will realize that all the money was wasted on DRM technology, and was merely passing for modern day 'snake oil'. DRM is a loosing battle that need not be fought because it only takes one disgruntled geek to undo all the millions spent on that failed technology. DRM will never increase sales, as the market forces are still just a matter of supply and demand. There is no upside to DRM except for those selling the technology itself. Everyone else, including the content providers themselves, loose in the long run.
  • Re:Old old story. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by think_nix (1467471) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @07:36AM (#30534214)

    Not only that but also Jessie Vincent [fsck.com] showed at oscon [oreilly.com] (his 5 minute speech starts at 2:13 on the video) How he already reversed engineered and installed ubuntu 9.04 on the Kindle. After watching his presentation and hearing about all the crap amazon actually does with these things, I am surprised anyone would still even consider buying one.

  • Re:Old old story. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AndGodSed (968378) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @07:44AM (#30534240) Homepage Journal

    the THEY you are referring to are the uninformed masses. THEY have the buying power and THEY generally trust the large corporations more than they trust the informed among us, because there is a mentality of "If I saw it on TV (or amazon.com for that matter) it MUST be more trustworthy than the neighbourhood geek"

    Sigh... we geeks really have to work on our marketing... we need an image consultant!

  • by DrXym (126579) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @07:59AM (#30534314)
    Proposing a non DRM solution to publishers is simply not a viable solution. Like it or not, publishers want to protect their content from copying and certain people all too willing to copy their content for nothing. However, any DRM scheme needs to be common to all publishers, all resellers and all reader devices. It must also define reasonable limits that take into account the user's needs and the publisher's needs.

    With that in place, consumers will flock to the format and publishers will reap the rewards. Perhaps in the long term the industry discovers (as with MP3), that people are in general fairly honest so there is no need for the DRM. Perhaps the cost of licensing the DRM exceeds the losses of not implementing it. Perhaps passive DRM such as embedding the user's personal information into their copy is sufficient deterrent.

  • Re:Old old story. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Grimbleton (1034446) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @08:01AM (#30534330)

    Yes, I've mentioned him before, but my uncle will trust any jackoff (Wait, I'm in Pittsburgh now, "jagoff") with a sign on his truck even if he were the biggest idiot who burns half his house down in the process of setting his VCR clock. When it comes to me fixing, say, a loose power socket that just needed the screw in back tightened down, he'd rather have it hanging loose until he can afford to hire someone to do it.

  • by base3 (539820) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @08:29AM (#30534468)
    DRM doesn't make any sense on books. No one even has to "crack" it -- it only takes one person with access to type the book into an open format and distribute it. The publishers can either suck it up and realize this, or lose out to the pirates who provide a better, more convenient product for zero cost.
  • Re:Old old story. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DarkTempes (822722) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @08:54AM (#30534634)
    I dunno, I like my Kindle. It works, feels pretty much the same as reading a book (eink is almost the same as real ink to the eye (including viewing angle) with just slightly worse contrast), and allows me to read books comfortably but without taking up huuuuuge amounts of bookshelf/storage space.

    No one makes you buy ebooks from Amazon with the Kindle. And if you're super paranoid about Amazon seeing what you read or accessing your device or something you can hack that out or just keep the wireless turned off. Yes, it's a niche market luxury device. Yes, it's not perfect and could use some software updates. You don't spend money on such a thing if you haven't researched it or are scared of going hungry.
  • by DrXym (126579) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:01AM (#30534676)
    DRM doesn't make any sense on books. No one even has to "crack" it -- it only takes one person with access to type the book into an open format and distribute it. The publishers can either suck it up and realize this, or lose out to the pirates who provide a better, more convenient product for zero cost.

    And all one has to do with music is tape it, or with movies camcorder it. You can even do this with encrypted content. The analogue hole means all content can ultimately be copied and usually at an acceptable level of quality. I'm actually surprised no one has hooked up a Kindle to a flatbed scanner and written some page turning software to rip & OCR books that way.

    But all this is irrelevant because publishers still want the option of DRM. It may ultimately be futile, but publishers want the option. A determined attacker will find their way around anything but most people are not that determined. Publishers might wish there was unbreakable DRM (fat chance) but failing that they'll settle for one that prevents casual copying and one that makes it easy to identify file sharers.

    A single file format and DRM that was common across all vendors and non-intrusive wouldn't even register as an issue with consumers. Far more important would be the price of the content and the ease of obtaining and managing it. Even with P2P networks people still buy video & music from online stores and the same would hold true for books. The biggest impediment is the multitude of incompatible formats. A single format adopted by all major players would see sales skyrocket.

  • Re:Old old story. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jbezorg (1263978) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:14AM (#30534782)

    ...even if he were the biggest idiot who burns half his house down in the process of setting his VCR clock.

    Well of course. Your uncle would feel bad suing you after the house burnt down. The jack/jagoff on the other hand is a different matter. However...

    When it comes to me fixing, say, a loose power socket that just needed the screw in back tightened down...

    Don't you know that slashdot geeks are expected by relatives to fix hardware failures via email or over the phone? By using clairvoyance and the uncanny ability to determine what failed with only a "I tried [ insert normal activity ] and it didn't work. What's wrong?". You should be able to will that screw to tighten by incanting tech jargon over the internet.

  • Re:Yeah. Right. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by IDtheTarget (1055608) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:19AM (#30534836)

    More like; "Amazon-dot-com and shareholders rejoice, as more people can now read your files, therefore you make more money from increased e-book sales."

    You really think so? You figure the hackers were disgruntled Amazon shareholders working to increase their quarterly dividends? My perception is that this will result in increased piracy, i.e., distribution through non-authorized channels from whom the authors of the books are not compensated.

    Not necessarily. I prefer to read my books on my iPhone, using BookShelf. I've been burned a couple of times by DRM, so I won't buy an eBook unless I can strip the DRM. That way, once I've paid for the book, I won't have to worry about it being either taken away or rendered useless by a company going under.

    I *want* to purchase my ebooks. I *don't* want to pirate them or give away books I've purchased. But I also *require* that I have the ability to read my purchases on whatever medium is convenient to me.

  • Re:Old old story. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:59AM (#30535200)

    The faith in "professionalism" is stunning. But even more so in titles and price.

    When I was fixing computers for 10 bucks an hour and calling myself "computer repair guy", I was pestered and belittled and if only the tinyest bit didn't work out (usually because of user stupidity) I was blamed and indirectly accused that I don't know what I'm doing.

    Since I started charging 100 bucks an hour and calling myself a "senior IT consultant", not only do I no longer have to do any work (instead, I just tell people what to do) but I also am seen as the demigod who can miraculously cure any sickness that may have befouled the computer, no matter how long it takes or how little I actually accomplish.

  • by OldeTimeGeek (725417) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @10:08AM (#30535296)
    Not even remotely the same thing. When I lend out a book, I no longer have access to it. If the lendee forgets where it came from and lends it to someone else or sells it (yes, it happened to me), the only way I'm ever going to read it again is to buy another copy or try to find it in a library.

    With e-books you aren't "lending", you're merely making a copy...

  • by clodney (778910) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @10:11AM (#30535328)

    I'd suggest converting every book you own really fucking quick. No telling how long it will take Amazon to make a similar format that will take another year or so to break. You can bet that once they do, they'll remotely switch everyone's ebooks over to that new format and then push a firmware upgrade to ensure compliance.

    Or, I could say that my Kindle works just fine as is, and that the presence of the DRM has been a non-event for me. In the event Amazon goes under I could be out of luck (though the most likely thing that would happen is that everything on my Kindle would continue to work for as long as the device lived). But what are the odds that Amazon will disappear in the next few years?

    I'd rather we lived in a world where nobody felt the need for DRM, but that is not the world we have. Amazon and Apple seem to have about the most benign forms of DRM around, and I have been happy with the value I have received for my money.

  • Re:Old old story. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by surferx0 (1206364) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @10:59AM (#30535794)

    the THEY you are referring to are the uninformed masses. THEY have the buying power and THEY generally trust the large corporations more than they trust the informed among us, because there is a mentality of "If I saw it on TV (or amazon.com for that matter) it MUST be more trustworthy than the neighbourhood geek"

    That is because the large corporation is in fact almost always is more trustworthy than the neighborhood geek. There is absolutely no way for an average joe to distinguish a geek who really knows their stuff from a geek who knows just enough to be dangerous, the latter being the category most of your neighborhood geeks will fall into.

    As someone who has worked in end-user computer services for a number of years, it's pretty much a daily occurrence seeing whacked out stuff that the neighborhood geeks try to do, which either makes the problem worse or works around the problem but confuses the customer enough that they still can't use their computer for what they wanted anyway.

    Most neighborhood geeks just don't understand that the average person does not use computers like we do and have no desire to learn how to. At least the large corporations making end-user products make a serious attempt at creating something usable for the masses. Some are obviously more successful than others, but in any case the neighborhood geek will typically only be interested in making something usable for themselves.

  • Re:Old old story. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mr Otobor (1097177) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @11:24AM (#30536044)

    Mmmm, I think your view is overly simplistic; here's my expanded view:

    Firstly (1), The Kindle is awesome. Not perfect, but after roughly (and literally!) 2000 years, someone improved the book. Will it take, mmm, 5 or 10 more years get he new form right? Yeah. (And can we take a moment to reflect on the 'holy crap' aspect of improving something as durable as books?) The hounds of anti-DRM and anti-stuff-in-general-that-does't-work-exactly-the-way-I-say-it-should can bray on, but if they are that concerned and passionate about it, I'd like to see the results of their labors.

    Secondly (2), as Amazon hasn't yet seemed to respond in any real way to the Kindle-DRM (as opposed to the PC), I suspect --via the 'proof is in the pudding' argument-- that they don't give a crap.

    Corollary (2.5), it has been publicized and well analyzed that it is the (traditional) book publishers that want the DRM and are scared by e-books; this year has seen a large increase in the number of titles available and the sales figures for e-books. You can thank Amazon, largely, for that. In all seriousness, while e-books are as inevitable as digital music, I worry that these kinds of 'shenanigans' will slow the transition, even if they are are necessary (See point 4.)

    Thirdly (3), the idea that 'They', as in the idiot masses, are, well, idiots is so... 1990's :) 'They', in my experience, are more and more aware of how things work, in the often disparaged way that 'They' know who to call when something is broken. You know... they same way idiot 'You' relies on 'They' to get the trains running on back on-time, build the new state-of-the-art office building you work in, sort out your business taxes, and fix your ruptured spleen. Expertise comes in a lot of forms and people seem to forget this, or to forget it enough to regard their personal expertise --surprise, surprise-- as some kind of God-selected first place prize in the interests and employment contest. (See next point)

    Finally (4), "They' have come to depend on the fact that 'you' are doing what you do, even if they don't understand it (See previous point :>) So when they get DRM free music on iTunes, can rip their old CDs to their hard drive, etc. 'They' are quite happy that 'You' have been outfighting the good fight; and if all it costs them is a little unheard derision, that is still free. And since it is their foot- and wallet-power that actually drives the decisions these companies make --it was, after all and let's be honest, kids and college students and masses of lazy 20- and 30-somethings **not** buying CDs and ripping Fairplay that ultimately won the music DRM fight-- the smugness being lorded over 'they' isn't only tired, it's factually incorrect.

  • Re:Old old story. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @11:32AM (#30536122) Homepage Journal

    The general public are morons who will always despise you, so work on wealth and power instead

    I only need enough wealth to provide food, shelter, transportation, tools and other gizmos, beer, and a little pot once in a while. Chasing after more wealth than I need seems a pointless waste of time and energy to me. And why would I want power over other humans? That just seems crazy.

    I'd rather spend my time on fun things, like hacking hardware and software, reading, writing, painting and drawing, drinking, sex, etc. And I really don't care if stupid people despise me (there are a few of them here on slashdot; fortunately very few).

  • by Jhon (241832) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @11:59AM (#30536398) Homepage Journal

    what's the chance that your book will still be readable in 5000 years?

    Pretty good if I convert them to Sumerian Clay Tablets. But what are the odds that even if they ARE readable, that *I* will be able to read them in 5000 years? I'm more or less looking to make sure they are still readable by me for the next 40-50 years tops.

  • Re:Old old story. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dragoness Eclectic (244826) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @01:02PM (#30537094)

    I like e-Ink, I don't like Amazon's proprietary lock-in, so I got a Sony eReader, which handles ePub, PDFs, LRF, and everything else I want to read, Calibre converts for me. Except Kindle DRM format, of course. This might be useful as a method to buy Kindle books without a Kindle, crack them, and load them on my e-Reader, if there were any Kindle-exclusives I wanted.

  • by maillemaker (924053) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @01:31PM (#30537370)

    >The labels required it.

    Yeah, and they fucked themselves by doing it. I tend to side with the OP that the reason why DRM is falling out of favor is because the content providers are realizing that the protection DRM offers (which is negligible) is not worth putting all your market share at the control of the DRM provider.

    No doubt the music labels originally required it. That's because they 1) thought it would work and 2) didn't realize the control they were giving up.

  • Re:Old old story. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz (762201) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @01:42PM (#30537486) Homepage Journal

    Thirdly (3), the idea that 'They', as in the idiot masses, are, well, idiots is so... 1990's :)

    Really? Here's what you do. Identify someone with a 100 IQ. Take that person to lunch. Have a nice, stimulating conversation with them. Be sure you cover politics, religion, technology, science (as a philosophy), science (as a pool of currently accepted theory), sports, marriage (gay and otherwise), the social contract, personal budgets, compound interest, the care and use of computer systems, and car maintainance. And anything else you can think of.

    When you're done, simply reflect: Half, or more (because a lot of people reside under the peak), of the population (by definition) are only as smart, or less so, than that person.

    Now, you were saying about how "1990's" it was to think of idiot masses?

  • Re:Yawn... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by selven (1556643) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @01:46PM (#30537524)

    If you want something that lasts through the ages, you need an uncompressed format. BMP and ASCII are both good - if you can read the bits, a human with 5 minutes of training can draw/write the original.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @03:26PM (#30538494)

    His abilities were discussed, but a description of the actual violence was relatively rare.

    Perhaps because descriptions of fights in books are almost invariably boring, inadequate and contribute little to nothing towards advancing the plot of the story. It's rather like reading a description of a dance. I don't care how good you are with prose, you're never going to capture the beauty and grace of the movement satisfactorily, so what is the point of trying? Good authors know this and so they don't waste a lot of time trying to describe fight scenes in minute detail

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