DVD Jon cracks Apple's iTunes

Posted by Humphrey Cheung

Jon Lech Johansen, aka DVD Jon, has done it again by hacking Apple's iTunes encryption. Johansen claims this allows people to move their purchased songs to other players which could break Apple's stronghold in the online music business. He has also formed a new company, aptly named DoubleTwist, to license the hack to third-party music stores and even to Apple.

Johansen's hack actually affects the FairPlay encryption inside of Apple iTunes. Not only does Fairplay prevent store bought iTunes songs from being played on other MP3 players, but it also stops DRM-protected songs from other services from playing on the iPod. Essentially, Johansen's hack actually adds DRM to imported songs to make them compatible with iTunes. Regular MP3 files have always been freely importable into iPod, but many services don't offer songs in that format.

Getting around FairPlay is not new and iTunes customers have been using some pretty elaborate methods to get around the protection for several years. One way was to burn the songs to a CD and then rip it back onto the computer as an MP3 file. Another was to use to install a number of programs that defeated the encryption.

When he was 15, Johansen gained notoriety by cracking the CSS encryption scheme protecting DVDs and in so doing had almost every media company go after him. Norwegian authorities tried jail Johansen under digital copyright laws, but he was acquitted with legal help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

So far Johansen hasn't publicly released any code and has chosen to go for the big bucks by licensing the hack to competing music stores.