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Hack Watch: iPhone 3G Unlocked? BD+ Secured?

unlock iphone 3gWith Digital Rights Management (DRM) there’s a constant cat and mouse game at play.  Companies spend money to restrict their product’s use, hackers spend time trying to set it free.   Recently, in two different battles from the same war – both sides scored victories.   For the hackers, a group called the iPhone Dev-Team is reporting they’ve unlocked the iPhone 3G. For the content industry, the Blu Ray DRM standard BD+ has taken back some ground.

iPhones Set Free in the Wild
The inability to use the iPhone 3G with any carrier has been a frustrating nuisance for many would-be buyers around the world.  In the U.S., you can’t walk into a store , buy a phone, drop in your SIM card and chat away. it’s AT&T or bust.

Hackers have been trying to change this for months.   Apparently, they now have….

The iPhone Dev Team reported on their blog that they’ve created a software unlock that will do the job. Codenamed YellowSn0w, the hack is expected to be out on New Year’s Eve.  It’s currently being packaged into a more user friendly format.

Not all iPhone 3G owners will be able to use the software.  It’s the nature of the process:

Unlocking the iPhone 3G requires two different things.  The first step is to gain read/write access to the phone’s file system.  This requires breaking in to the operating system which is a smaller version of Mac OS X.  This “jailbreak,” as it’s sometimes called, allows custom use of the phone’s resources.  iPhone 3G jailbreaks have been out for a while.

The second step of iPhone unlocking is to crack the phone’s baseband, essentially the operating system for the phone’s modem/antenna functions.  Hackers need to break into the baseband and change its program to accept non-AT&T SIM cards.   Until now, a baseband crack of the iPhone 3G hadn’t been accomplished. That’s iPhone Dev-Team’s breakthrough.

The weak spot with the cracks is an Apple software update can update the baseband, overriding the “unlock” or even breaking the phone.
The iPhone Dev-Team says their effort will require a “jailbroken” iPhone 3G running a baseband version of 2.11.07 or earlier to work.

Breaking and Securing BD+
A year ago, in November of 2007, Macrovision shelled out $45m to buy an encryption scheme called BD+ along with staffers to support it.The system, which is kind of like Virus Software except instead of monitoring for external threats against the user it monitors against threats from the viewer, was designed to be a second layer of ant-piracy protection for the Blu Ray standard.  When in place, the virtual machine of BD+ sits in wait and constantly monitors for errant behavior. Its goal is to detect anything its code deems is inappropriate.  If it finds something, like that virus software quarantining a bad file, it prevents the disc from playing.   

Two weeks before Macrovision’s buy, SlySoft, a software company with headquarters in Antigua (and no U.S. footprint to make them susceptible to U.S. copyright law and the Digital Millennium Act) claimed (via employee web forum posts) that the latest version of their AnyDVD  DVD backup and copy software could handle (and bypass) BD+. 

For the past year, Macrovision and SlySoft have gone back and forth will dueling upgrades that have alternated securing, and then breaking, the standards lock on the DVD content.  In June, the movie Jumper came out on Bluray and was secure.  7 days later, a new version of AnyDVD, unlocked it.  (via Ars Technica).

A month ago, SlySoft claimed another victory.  But now, a new firmware update for BD+ has retaken the system (for some movies).  Comments on SlySoft’s forums, however, boast they’ll have the latest BD+ upgrades bypassed by February 2009.

When it comes to software, if it can be built it can be broken.  For every tally they put on the scorecard for more security, somewhere, someone is going to try and undo it – even if the only goal is to see if they can unlock what’s supposed to be secure.  Given enough time, they’re going to be successful at breaking through.

If there’s any upside for the content industry it’s that BD+ is upgradeable and can evolve.  It’s not a lock so much as an ever changing obstacle. 

The cat and mouse game continues.


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