Hacking the Xbox, free in honor of Aaron Swartz


Bunnie Huang's seminal book "Hacking the Xbox" is now a free PDF, released thus by the author in honor of Aaron Swartz. "Hacking the Xbox" is the "Our Bodies, Our Selves" of reverse engineering -- a brilliant and accessible text setting out the case for and the practicalities of reverse engineering and taking control of your devices.

I agreed to release this book for free in part because Aaron’s treatment by MIT is not unfamiliar to me. In this book, you will find the story of when I was an MIT graduate student, extracting security keys from the original Microsoft Xbox. You’ll also read about the crushing disappointment of receiving a letter from MIT legal repudiating any association with my work, effectively leaving me on my own to face Microsoft.

The difference was that the faculty of my lab, the AI laboratory, were outraged by this treatment. They openly defied MIT legal and vowed to publish my work as an official “AI Lab Memo,” thereby granting me greater negotiating leverage with Microsoft. Microsoft, mindful of the potential backlash from the court of public opinion over suing a legitimate academic researcher, came to a civil understanding with me over the issue.

It saddens me that America’s so-called government for the people, by the people, and of the people has less compassion and enlightenment toward their fellow man than a corporation. Having been a party to subsequent legal bullying by other entities, I am all too familiar with how ugly and gut-wrenching a high-stakes lawsuit can be. Fortunately, the stakes in my cases were not as high, nor were my adversaries as formidable as Aaron’s, or I too might have succumbed to hopelessness and fear. A few years ago, I started rebuilding my life overseas, and I find a quantum of solace in the thought that my residence abroad makes it a little more difficult to be served.

While the US legal system strives for justice, the rules of the system create an asymmetric war that favors those with resources. By and far one of the most effective methods to force a conclusion, right or wrong, against a small player is to simply bleed them of resources and the will to fight through pre-trial antics. Your entire life feels like it is under an electron microscope, with every tiny blemish magnified into a pitched battle of motions, countermotions, discovery, subpoenas, and affidavits, and each action heaping tens of thousands of dollars onto your legal bill. Your friends, co-workers, employers, and family are drawn into this circus of humiliation as witnesses. Worse, you’re counseled not to speak candidly to anyone, lest they be summoned as a witness against you. Isolated and afraid, it eventually makes more sense to roll over and settle than to take the risk of losing on a technicality versus a better-funded adversary, regardless of the justice.

An open letter from bunnie, author of Hacking the Xbox

Help reverse-engineer Vimeo's anti-downloading measures

JWZ wrote his own Vimeo downloader (and uses other Vimeo downloaders like Miro), but it's stopped working, because Vimeo's got new countermeasures.

I really rely on Vimeo downloaders for my own watching, since Vimeo's network buffering is so terribly broken and performs so poorly in bad network connections. Any time I really want to watch a video on Vimeo -- especially if it's more than a few minutes long -- I download it and watch it with VLC.

JWZ is looking for help reverse-engineering the measures Vimeo uses to stop video downloading. If you've got the time and inclination to help him, that would be great (it would also really help me write about and link to more Vimeo files here!).

On a private video, when you hit "Play" in either the Flash player or the HTML5 player, it loads "http://av.vimeo.com/Nx5/Nx3/Nx9.mp4?aksessionid=HEX&token=CTIME_HEX2" which returns the full MP4. Those URLs go 403 after some small number of minutes, and it loads a URL with different hex each time you hit play (though the decimal numbers stay the same), so presumably the ctime is a part of the hash.

The fact that this works in the HTML5 player means that they are computing those URLs from Javascript somehow, rather than with a secret key that is baked into their Flash player, so that's promising. But I don't have a lot of experience reverse-engineering gigantic Javascript apps.

Since it will be the first thing you find when googling, let me point out that the old moogaloop URLs like "http://vimeo.com/moogaloop/load/clip:ID" are 404. You used to be able to use those to get a signature, then construct a download URL like: "http://vimeo.com/moogaloop/play/clip:ID/SIG/EXP/?q=hd", but no more.

Vimeo download escalation

Microsoft buys Skype, attacks reverse engineer with bogus takedown notices and florid language

Microsoft-owned Skype has launched a campaign to shut down programmers who use reverse-engineering to understand its protocol and make interoperable products. Their PR agency calls this "nefarious attempts to subvert Skype's experience." Unfortunately for Skype and Microsoft, "experience" is not something the law protects -- after all, if a Skype user wants to talk to another person who uses a third-party Skype client, why would the law want to prevent that? Meanwhile, it appears that the sourcecode over which Microsoft is asserting copyright was created by the reverse-engineer they're harassing.

The day of publishing his initial details, Google's Blogger (where his blog is hosted) received a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) notice that two of his blog entries had to be removed: the post about his success in reverse-engineering the Skype protocol and then a second post about more technical details.

The complainant issuing the DMCA notice was in fact "Skype Inc" and the basis for the complaint is "Source code. The publication of this code, in addition to infringing Skype's intellectual property rights, may encourage improper spamming activities." (Google publishes DMCA complaints to ChillingEffects.org.)

Skype issued a second DMCA copyright notice after this researcher published more Skype related code. Those files have since moved to being hosted elsewhere. Skype is claiming copyright on the code even though the open-source code was written by the researcher. Another DMCA takedown attempt regarding the same work was issued again in early August when the researcher tried doing a DMCA counter-notice, and he ended up putting up links again to this "copyrighted" work.

Skype Goes After Reverse-Engineering (via /.)