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iBooks DRM Has Been Hacked

February 23rd, 2012 by · 27 Comments · Apple

Reports are coming in today that the latest version of Requiem, an app that removes Fairplay DRM from music and videos sold via iTunes, will now also remove the DRM from iBooks ebooks. It may have taken a couple years, but Apple is now as safe to buy from as any other ebookstore. You don’t have to worry about losing future access to content that you buy there.

Note that I am looking for confirmation that the app even exists; I’ve never seen, much less used, it.

Update: Several readers hve confirmed the app and one sent me  copy. Thanks!

For some time I’ve had a theory about DRM, and I’d say that today’s news confirmed it.

I’ve always thought that DRM only remained unbroken so long as no hacker was interested in breaking it. Take Requiem, for example. It’s been round since 2008 (and iBooks since 2010) but it was only recently that the developer turned his eye towards iBooks. (Maybe he was bored.)

There’s a similar story behind Kindle DRM. The Kindle shipped in November 2007, and the first hack to remove the DRM showed up in January 2008. Why so quick, when iBooks took 2 years?

I think the Kindle DRM was hacked quickly because of all the hype. The rumored launch of the Kindle was a hot story all through 2007. In fact, the hype was so high that the DRM was cracked by someone who didn’t even have a Kindle. Apparently it was just a technical challenge, not a personal need.

Also, the early Kindle DRM was only slightly different from that of Mobipocket, and Mobi DRM had been broken in mid-2007.

There’s a funny story here. Mobi DRM wasn’t hacked via any heavy duty reverse engineering; no, it was  human error. Back in 2007 (before Amazon started killing off Mobipocket), there were a number of third party ereader that read Mobi ebooks and supported Mobi DRM. One developer, Irex, accidentally posted a complete firmware for the Illiad, their 8″ ereader.  It was online for a couple weeks before they realized their mistake. In that time, at least one hacker downloaded it and took it apart. The hacker then disassembled the reading app to get at the DRM code.

That story illustrates why DRM never works in the long run. It’s  digital lock, yes, but for customers to read what they bought they must also have the key. Key+lock equals hacked DRM, once it gets in the hand of the right developer.

And once it’s been hacked, there’s really no justification for it.

image by Austen Hufford

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27 Comments so far ↓

  • Argyris

    I don’t think they hacked it because they where bored. iBooks now has exclusive content, such as text books and other titles that will be generated with iBooks Author, so it makes sense to spend time and hack the DRM.

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  • Mike Cane

    *smacks self* For the longest time I’ve had on my desktop an installer called REQUIEM. Now I finally know why I got that months ago. Sheesh.

    Have you tried it yourself yet?

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  • Geo

    I can confirm that it does indeed work. I just pulled my iBooks from iTunes after running Requiem 3.3 and they work just fine on my Sony Reader.

    Formatting is generally good too, book covers do not seem to transfer over to Calibre though.

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  • Derek Martin

    DRM is only half the problem.
    remember te old MS program called “Works”? it was a suite of low-end but integrated office applications. They didn’t have DRM, but I bet you’d have a hat time reading Works files today. We are not on Windows 3.1 anymore, and Works no longer exists.
    the same thing could (will?) happen with both Kindle books & iBooks. we need to preserve te entire software compatibility chain in order for e-books to be long lived.
    This is the a huge reason that paper books are not going away. Diital is for stuff you don’t need to last, and don’t want to hand down to future generations. It’s perfect for magazines & novels you don’t really care about… but I think it’s only a matter of time until people realize that they should probably keep physical copies of their absolute favourites.

    • Paul Jones

      I see your point, but even the latest versions of Office have the option of converters for the MS Works files.

      Once a file is digital and DRM free it becomes trivial to move it to a newer format.

      • ?

        Not if the original format is horrible. It’s great that MS still adds support for those old filetypes in their new versions, but if they didn’t, you’d have a heck of a time reading them. MS office tools tend to have ridiculously strange file formats. Some are deliberately obfuscated to keep others from being compatible, and some are just memory dumps out of laziness…

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  • Jonas Wisser

    I can confirm that the app exists and works as advertised. Snooping around your local Buccaneer Cove may yield more information for you.

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  • R. E. Hunter

    Just FYI, in the US, either developing, distributing or using any such software is a criminal offence under the DMCA (with some narrow exemptions that do not apply to reading for pleasure). And through ACTA, they are pushing very hard to get it criminalized in other countries too.

    • Nate Hoffelder

      Yes, but I don’t know that anyone has been prosecuted under this.

      On the other hand, I strongly suspect that Apple would be happy to buy a prosecutor to go after anyone who posted a copy of the tool. They’re determined to make sure that this tool isn’t shared.

    • John Ross

      Just FYI, in Knoxville TN it is illegal to cross an intersection in a motor vehicle without first discharging a firearm to warn approaching horses.
      It was also illegal for women to vote.
      Legal and right are 2 different things.
      If I purchase something it is MINE. The seller loses ALL RIGHTS to the item once it has been bought and paid for.
      Should there be laws against me putting it up on the internet for all to have a copy? Sure that’s what copyright laws are for. They are not there to screw the purchaser out of his/her rights to do with what he/she wants to do with his/her property.
      And once you pay for it that’s what it becomes YOUR PROPERTY.

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  • ?

    “I’ve always thought that DRM only remained unbroken so long as no hacker was interested in breaking it.”

    Pretty much true, although it needs to be a talented enough hacker. All three current-gen game consoles took a while to break, and I doubt nobody was interested in doing so for all that time – it just wasn’t until someone with the right talents and the right ideas came along (bushing, geohot, etc) that they actually started making progress.

    Even then, it takes time to get to the point that most people would call “broken” – but DRM is like a wall. Rather difficult to just smash through, but once someone finds a crack in it, it won’t be long before they’ve dug their way through. DRM is effectively broken as soon as the first flaw is found; it just takes a bit to dig in through that crack and turn that flaw into something useable.

    • ?

      …and I should add, there is always a flaw. The best you can hope for is that nobody finds it before your system is obsolete.

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  • martymankins

    As a long time user of Requiem and JHymn before it, the liberating of your purchased physical media and the ability to know if can be easily migrated to a backup or to ensure file compatibility on multiple systems, this is not something that encourages piracy. This is for the legal purchaser to have some assurance in knowing the media isn’t stuck into a closed system.

  • LS

    Still better to buy a real book.. at least then I can read it and.. give it to a friend. Why is this not alowed with ibooks or bol.com?
    So unfair. I’ll never buy an e-book again!!

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