Groups Petition for Right to Hack the Xbox, Back Up DVDs

Xbox awaiting 'jailbreaking' modification

The public could be allowed to copy DVDs onto their tablets and unlock video-game consoles to run home-brewed games if regulators side with public interest groups’ new requests to amend federal intellectual-property law.

Every three years, the U.S. Copyright office entertains requests to create temporary loopholes in the law that makes it a crime to circumvent encryption technologies — even in items that you buy. Just last year, the office decreed that it was finally legal to “jailbreak” smart phones so that iPhone users could install apps that Apple didn’t approve.

This season’s big-ticket requests to amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act include one from Public Knowledge seeking legalization of technology that lets you copy encrypted movie DVDs. That could give movie fans the ability to watch legally purchased movies on the devices of their choice and make backup copies of children’s movies — which as any parent knows can get scratched beyond playability in no time.

But many movie DVDs are encrypted with so-called CSS encryption, meaning they cannot be copied unless decrypting software is used. But even for personal use, using that software is illegal — though Handbrake is free and widely used.

In 2009, because of the DMCA, a federal judge blocked RealNetworks from distributing DVD-copying software because the Seattle company’s wares employed tools that cracked the encryption on DVD videos.

Other similar software, including the free Handbrake, can be found on the internet, but the operators market those products at their own legal peril.

Video-game consoles are locked down with encryption as well. That’s because their makers want the device to only run their licensed games — making sure that Microsoft and Sony gets a cut on every piece of software that runs on an X-Box or a PlayStation.

If the U.S. Copyright Office grants the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s game-console-modding request, that would put an end to federal prosecutions and civil lawsuits for such conduct. However, the feds could still prosecute those who bundle “mod kits” with pirated games.

Every three years the Copyright Office goes through a DMCA-exemption process and grants exemptions to the law’s ban on breaking encryption designed to protect copyrighted goods. The office is not expected to take action until next year, at a date not yet disclosed.

Last year, the office granted the EFF’s 2009 petition to allow mobile-phone jailbreaking. For an iPhone, that legalized the cracking of encryption protecting the bootloader tied to the iOS operating system.

Apple cried foul prior to the Copyright Office granting the mobile phone exemption, saying the loophole would ruin its business model. Jailbreaking allows phone owners to run any apps on their phone they want, even if they’re neither approved by Apple nor sold in iTunes.

Following Apple’s 2009 claim, however, more than 18 billion apps have been downloaded from Apple. In 2009, there were 1 billion app downloads.

Hollywood and game manufacturers are likely to object to Public Knowledge’s request to sanction DVD copying on grounds it would threaten their business models by letting DVD owners make illegal copies for friends.

The EFF’s petition also asks for an exemption on cracking tablet computers, such as iPads and the Kindle Fire.

Ever since the Copyright Office granted the mobile-phone cracking exemption, the hacking community has been treating tablet hacking as if it was legal. No tablet maker has taken legal action against developers marketing tablet-circumvention tools. But that doesn’t mean it’s actually legal.

This set of proceedings will mark the fifth time the Copyright Office has entertained DMCA petitions. It has granted about a dozen exemptions in all, including one allowing for copying clips from encrypted DVDs for educational and documentary purposes.

Because of a quirk in the 1990 law, the Copyright Office is also being asked by the EFF to re-authorize the mobile-phone jailbreaking exemption it granted last year. That’s because exemptions expire every three years.

Photo: Adam/Flickr

Bradley Manning’s Defense Attorney Looks to Blame Military for Leaks

The defense team for alleged WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning is seeking to show a massive leak of classified diplomatic documents is the military’s own fault since it repeatedly ignored warnings that the former Army intelligence analyst was emotionally unstable, and continued to let him have access to classified networks.

That’s according to a redacted list of potential witnesses (.pdf) that Manning’s defense attorney, David E. Coombs, filed with the court last week and published on his blog over the weekend. The defense hopes to call the witnesses to a pre-trial hearing for Manning later this month, pending approval from the military court.

The documents suggest that the defense’s case will also focus on the military’s lax security at Forward Operating Base Hammer, where Manning was stationed in Iraq beginning late 2009 up until his arrest in May 2010. That lax security allowed soldiers to regularly install unauthorized programs and files on classified systems in order to listen to music and play computer games, according to the defense filing.

Manning is charged with 22 violations of military law for allegedly stealing records and transmitting defense information in violation of the Espionage Act, among other charges, which could get him up to life in prison if he’s convicted. In chat logs, Manning said he leaked the cables because he felt that the world needed to be aware of military activities that he believed were potentially illegal.

The defense’s focus on witnesses who will testify to Manning’s mental health and the military’s lax security is likely an effort to mitigate any punishment Manning will face if convicted.

Among the those who might be called to testify at the hearing is a psychologist who conducted an assessment of Bradley Manning on Dec. 24, 2009, just days after the soldier allegedly first made contact with WikiLeaks. The psychologist would testify, according to the defense, that he concluded at the time that Manning was under a considerable amount of stress and was potentially a danger to himself and others. The psychologist recommended that supervisors take Manning’s weapon from him or remove the bolt to disable the gun.

Although the psychologist had the option to recommend revoking Manning’s access to classified material, he did not do so and is expected to testify that he does not remember why he did not make this recommendation.

The witness list includes:

  • psychologists and psychiatrists who evaluated Manning
  • fellow soldiers who can testify to his emotional instability and the lax security conditions under which he worked,
  • investigators with the FBI and the Army who interviewed witnesses and conducted forensic analysis of computers that Manning used during the time he was based in Iraq, and
  • Adrian Lamo, the former hacker who turned Manning into authorities after the soldier allegedly confessed to him that he had stolen thousands of documents from classified networks and leaked them to WikiLeaks.

The list of witnesses also includes President Barack Obama — supposedly included to determine if remarks Obama made about Manning’s guilt represents undue influence on a military court from the commander-in-chief. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is also being sought to testify to the lack of actual harm caused to national security by the leak of nearly 260,000 U.S. State Department cables.

Coombs notes in his filing that several of the witnesses have refused to be interviewed by him prior to the Article 32 hearing.

The Article 32 hearing, to be held at Fort Meade in Maryland beginning Dec. 16, is expected to last five days. The hearing is a military procedure similar to a grand jury hearing, whereby prosecutors will lay out their evidence before a judge who will determine if the case is sufficiently strong for the young private to be court-martialed. During the hearing, both prosecution and defense are allowed to call witnesses for questioning and cross-examination.

Coombs told CNN in September of 2010 that the Army had removed the bolt from Manning’s weapon due to concerns about his mental health, but details of the evaluation that prompted this were unknown until now.

According to the witness list, a psychologist, whose name is blacked out in the document, conducted a behavioral-health assessment of Manning on Dec. 24, 2009. Manning allegedly said in chat logs — first revealed by — that he made contact with WikiLeaks shortly after Thanksgiving in 2009, after the secret-spilling site published 570,000 pager messages from the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The psychologist is expected to testify that Manning didn’t appear to have any social support system and seemed hypersensitive to criticism. The psychologist recommended that Manning be moved from the night shift to the day shift and be given lesser duties. He also determined that Manning should be given “low-intensity duty” for the immediate future, in addition to having his weapon disabled.

He or another mental-health expert subsequently treated Manning on numerous occasions between Dec. 30, 2009 and May 26, 2010 and determined that Manning needed long-term psychotherapy. In May 2010, shortly before Manning’s arrest, a psychiatrist determined again that Manning was at risk to himself and others and recommended that he not have an operable weapon. The psychiatrist is expected to testify that on May 22, he considered making a recommendation as to Manning’s access to classified information, but did not do so because Manning had by then already been demoted and moved out of the secure computer room where classified data is accessed.

According to chat logs between Manning and former hacker Adrian Lamo, Manning had been demoted after hitting a fellow soldier in the face and had been re-assigned to work in a supply annex.

The psychiatrist finally recommended on May 28 that Manning’s clearance be revoked, according to the defense filing. By then, however, Manning was already under investigation for leaking information to WikiLeaks, after Lamo reported him to authorities.

The document reveals that some Army witnesses are expected to testify that personnel regularly put unauthorized media on computers, such as programs, games, videos, and music and that it was fairly common to see games, music and movies on the classified Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet).

But at no point were personnel punished for placing unauthorized files on SIPRNet, witnesses are expected to testify. According to an information assurance security officer on the witness list, he tried to complain about the practice, but nothing was done. In one instance he found that a soldier had placed 500 gigabytes of information on his SIPRNet computer, but no action was taken to halt the practice.

The information is relevant to the case because Manning allegedly confessed to Adrian Lamo that he inserted a CD-ROM labeled as Lady Gaga music into his SIPRNet computer and copied thousands of documents from the network on to it, which he subsequently leaked to WikiLeaks. He is also charged with uploading unauthorized programs to the classified network.

The witness list also reveals that Manning only gained access to a database containing the U.S. State Department cables in January 2010 when someone gave him a link to the repository. The military person who sent him the link, and whom Coombs hopes to call as a witness, sent the link to Manning and other intelligence analysts “in order to allow the analysts to better understand the Iraqi political situation.”

A female soldier on the witness list would allegedly testify that it was she who first found the infamous Apache helicopter video on the military network, which WikiLeaks later published under the heading “Collateral Murder.” She called several soldiers over to view the video and that “over the next few days, several of the T-SCIF personnel debated about whether the video showed a camera or a rocket propelled Grenade (RPG) launcher and whether the actions of the Apache crew were appropriate under the circumstances.”

Another soldier would testify about a report that Manning encountered that described some “Iraqis or possibly some Moroccans” who were being arrested at a printing press facility. Manning was “very upset about the issue” after discovering that they may have been arrested for producing pamphlets that questioned whether Iraqi authorities were embezzling public funds.

“He will testify that if there was a moment in which Pfc. Manning may have snapped, this would have been it,” Coombs writes in the document. According to the witness, when Manning tried to call attention to the document, his superiors stonewalled him.

That account is corroborated by the chat logs between Manning and Lamo, in which Manning allegedly told Lamo that it was this incident that changed his mind about the military and appeared to be the catalyst for his decision to start leaking information.

“I had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth … but that was a point where i was a *part* of something … I was actively involved in something that i was completely against,” he allegedly wrote Lamo.

GCHQ Code Breaking Challenge Solved Through Googling

This is quite an amusing story, I’m sure many of you have read about the ‘hacking challenge’ set up by GCHQ and that they are looking to hire hackers cyber-security specialists through non-traditional channels. The thing that tickled me was, well there were two things that the challenge site was coded in ASP and...

Read the full post at

Assange Allowed to Seek Appeal of Extradition to Supreme Court

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been granted the right to ask the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court to overturn an order extraditing him to Sweden, where he’s being investigated on rape charges.

A High Court said on Monday that it felt “constrained” to say that the case raised “a question of general public importance” beyond Assange’s individual circumstances but decided that Assange may proceed to ask the Supreme Court for permission to appeal his extradition ruling, according to the BBC. However, one of the High Court judges asserted that Assange’s chance of succeeding in the Supreme Court was “extraordinarily slim.”

Last February, Assange lost an effort to fight extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over sex-crimes allegations. He appealed that decision, but a High Court rejected that appeal last month. An appeal to the Supreme Court is his last chance to fight the extradition.

Assange has not been charged with any crime in Sweden, and used that fact as his primary defense in his earlier appeal to the High Court. Assange’s defense attorneys also asserted that Sweden’s request for his extradition was invalid because the prosecutor was “working for the executive” and was therefore not a proper judicial authority.

Mark Summers, an attorney for Assange, has told the court that, “Public prosecutors should not, in any circumstances, be permitted to issue [European arrest warrant]s.”

The High Court rejected both of those arguments and ordered that Assange must return to Sweden.

Assange then sought permission from the High Court to appeal to the Supreme Court. In order to do so, his attorneys had to show the High Court that his case related to a matter of public importance that went beyond Assange. The High Court refrained from asserting that his case met this criteria, but nonetheless gave him permission to ask the Supreme Court directly to hear his appeal.

Assange has 14 days to submit a written petition to the Supreme Court. If the court refuses to hear his appeal, he has no more avenue for redress and will be extradited to Sweden. If he is granted an appeal hearing, that appeal will likely take place at the Supreme Court around May next year.

Assange is being sought for questioning in Sweden on rape and coercion allegations stemming from sexual relations he had with two women in that country in August 2010. One woman has claimed that Assange pinned her down to have sex with her and intentionally tore a condom he wore. The second woman claims that he had sex with her while she was initially asleep, failing to wear a condom despite repeated requests for him to do so. Assange has disputed their claims.

Assange was arrested in Britain last December, just nine days after WikiLeaks began publishing from its cache of more than 250,000 leaked U.S. State Department diplomatic cables, which were trickling out at a rate of about a hundred a day. Nine days after that, Assange was released from jail on $300,000 bond.

Assange has denied any wrongdoing, asserting that the sex in both cases was consensual.

In the High Court’s rejection of his initial appeal, the judges noted that in the case of the second woman, “it is difficult to see how a person could reasonably have believed in consent if the complainant alleges a state of sleep or half-sleep” and that given that the woman had insisted on Assange wearing a condom, “consent would not have been given without a condom.”

Defense attorneys have claimed that Assange would not get a fair trial in Sweden, because rape trials in that country are sometimes held behind closed doors. They have also argued that Assange could somehow find himself extradited to the United States, where, they theorize, he could face execution for leaking secrets.

Assange has been living under house arrest in the large country estate of Vaughan Smith, whom the Guardian newspaper has described as “a former army officer, journalist adventurer and right-wing libertarian.” Assange has been allowed to remain free on bond, reporting to police every evening in person and honoring a curfew, while he awaited the outcome of his appeal.

Photo: Julian Assange (center) speaks to the media, flanked by his lawyers Mark Stephens (left) and Jennifer Robinson after making a appearance at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in London, Jan. 11, 2011. Matt Dunham/AP