Opinion » Cybernaut


Johansen strikes again



There are literally dozens of music download sites out there, but only one of them seems to be thriving. Apple iTunes currently has over 80 per cent market share, which is as much a testament to the popularity of iPod music players as anything else. Music that has been downloaded from other music sites, like the subscription-based Napster, simply won’t play on iPod devices, giving Apple a virtual monopoly on the growing industry.

Apple’s refusal to play with other companies is a sore point for many struggling music providers, as well as for legions of people who want to buy iPods but purchase their music elsewhere for matters of selection, price and payment method.

Enter Norway’s Jon Lech Johansen, a hacker on a mission. In 1999, at the age of 15, he cracked the CSS security encryption that prevented people from making backup copies of DVDs. In 2001 he created a program called OpenJaz, reverse engineer drivers for Linux, BeOS and Windows 2000 that allowed people to use the JazPiper MP3 player without using the company’s own drivers.

In 2003 he released QTFairUse, an open source program that allowed people to make endless copies of songs by bypassing the Digital Rights Management software in programs like iTunes.

In 2004 he reverse engineered FairPlay to allow free distribution of video content, wrote another program to strip media of DRM security, wrote FairKeys to get around iTunes DRM, wrote a program to get around Apple’s AirPort Express encryption allowing use by PC users, and released a program to allow Linux users to play video encoded for Windows Media Video.

In 2005 he helped write PyMusique, which allowed people to strip DRM coding from songs downloaded from the iTunes Music Store; defeated an encryption in Windows Media Player that allowed the company to track people using non-proprietary formats, and released SharpMusique 1.0 as an alternative to iTunes which allowed people using Linux and Windows to buy songs from the iTunes store without copy protection.

You get the idea — Johansen is an open source freak who doesn’t like it when companies make products that don’t play with the products from other companies.

Last week it was announced that Johansen has cracked the iPod DRM software that prevents users from loading their devices with songs purchased from subscription download services or competing music stores. For their part, companies that compete with iTunes Music Store have always argued that the Apple hardware/software monopoly actually discourages the use of digital music downloads by not offering customers enough alternatives and therefore is harmful to both music and technology industries. Potential customers are confused, they claim, by the competing range of portable music devices and proprietary formats out there, and are waiting for something a little more unified.

You’d think this last move would be inviting a huge lawsuit, which is probably why Johansen created a new company called DoubleTeam to take the fall if this issue goes to court. At the same time Johansen seems to be protected by a provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that allows reverse engineering software for achieving “interoperability with other programs”.

Apple has gone through this before. Two years ago Real Networks online music store made it possible to play their own DRM music on iPods, but Apple declined to launch a lawsuit. Instead they changed the software to circumvent Real Networks hack, starting a game of DRM cat and mouse with no end in sight.

Given the fact that Apple has always been two steps ahead of the competition in digital music, it’s quite possible that they’ve been anticipating something like Johansen’s hack to come along and already have a fix in place. There are also rumours that iTunes Music Store may be revamped to compete on price, rather than on the strength of iPod hardware.

For all your Apple rumours, go to the site that Apple itself tried to sue because its information was so accurate – www.thinksecret.org.


Firefox 2.0 takes on IE7

This week Mozilla also released Firefox 2.0. Although version 1.0 was generally considered a superior browser in terms of features and performance, it wasn’t as secure as the company first bragged as a number of serious flaws were discovered in the last two years.

The new version, available at www.mozilla.com , is already drawing favourable reviews, although the company is downplaying the security side of things this time around.