The Electronic Frontier Foundation Doesn't Like Apple's Attitude

by Ostatic Staff - Nov. 26, 2008

Who knows why many open source users are also Macintosh users, but I've noticed a correlation there for years. Maybe it's because open source, like the Mac, rings of rebellion against the status quo. Nevertheless, if you think the love always flows in two directions, check out this post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. According to the EFF, Apple's lawyers recently put the kibosh on an online discussion of open source software, dubbed iPodhash, which the lawyers perceived as designed to circumvent aspects of Apple's FairPlay digital rights management (DRM), used in iTunes. (The original discussion is removed.) The key word there is "discussion"--there was no fully realized application that actually cracked Apple's encryption.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out:

"At the heart of this is the iTunesDB file, the index that the iPod operating system uses to keep track of what playable media is on the device. Unless an application can write new data to this file, it won't be able to 'sync' music or other content to an iPod. The iTunesDB file has never been encrypted and is relatively well understood. In iPods released after September 2007, however, Apple introduced a checksum hash to make it difficult for applications other than iTunes to write new data to the iTunesDB file, thereby hindering an iPod owner's ability to use alternative software (like gtkpod, Winamp, or Songbird) to manage the files on her iPod."

Apple's original checksum hash, an encryption scheme, was cracked within three days of its release. However, Apple has recently updated the checksum hash for the iPod and iPod Touch, and that piece of code obfuscation has not been hacked yet.

Long story short, a discussion of how to crack Apple's new checksum hash using open source software called iPodhash took place on a wiki dubbed Bluwiki. While nobody posted an actual application for cracking it, there was some illustrative code. You can view the communications that Bluewiki has posted regarding taking the discussions down here. There, the Digital Mellenium Copyright Act (DMCA) is cited as protecting Apple's FairPlay DRM scheme, because it is considered "anti-circumvention technology."

Attorneys at the Electronic Frontier Foundation are crying foul. "If Apple is suggesting that the DMCA reaches people merely talking about technical protection measures, then they've got a serious First Amendment problem," they write.

I have to agree. Talk is talk. Encryption and other forms of code obfuscation are communally practiced throughout the worlds of proprietary and open source software. Also, encryption predates personal computers and Apple by many years. Where would security software end up if people were barred, directed by lawyers, from ever discussing methods of disguising code?