Hackers build backdoor into iTunes

New software by "DVD Jon" allows online music purchases without copy protection.

A trio of independent programmers has released new software that allows people to tap into Apple Computer's iTunes music store and purchase songs free of any anticopying protections.

Joined by Jon Johansen , the Norwegian programmer responsible for distributing DVD-cracking code in late 1999, the programmers say their "PyMusique" software is a "fair" interface for iTunes, primarily aimed at allowing people who use the Linux operating system to purchase music from Apple's store.

Jon Johansen
Jon Johansen

But with a Windows version of the software also available, it's likely to trigger a legal response from Apple, which has closely guarded access to its online music store and has depended on its copy-protection software to gain rights to sell music online.

In an interview late Friday, one of the program's creators, 17-year-old Pennsylvania high school student Cody Brocious, said the ability to save songs without copy protection was essentially an accident derived from the way Apple's system downloads songs. He said the software wasn't intended to harm Apple.

"The intent of the project was to be able to purchase files from the iTunes Music Store," Brocious said. "I believe very firmly that the project is ethical and does nothing but good for the community at large."

Apple representatives had no immediate comment on the software.

The PyMusique release is the latest and most ambitious skirmish in a long-running battle between Apple and hackers intent on removing digital-rights management from the company's songs. As the most popular online music store, Apple has helped prove that consumers will purchase copy-protected songs but also has been a test case for whether that copy-protection can sustain attacks.

The release draws from the work of a handful of scattered programmers over the past year who have successively identified how different pieces of the iTunes software works.

Brocious said he started his project after hearing of another programmer's work creating a Web-based interface to the iTunes store.

He and other programmers found that the iTunes store downloads songs wrapped in encryption, but that music purchasers are given the key to unlock that encryption when they buy a song. Ordinarily, the iTunes software would then rewrap the song in Apple's FairPlay digital rights management software, he says--but with their Linux version, that separate step didn't turn out to be necessary.

The result was a song that had been paid for and downloaded, but lacked the copy protections Apple's store ordinarily provides.

Brocious, who has left his most recent development on the software to another programmer, said he hasn't been contacted by Apple and

 

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