Technology

'Banned' Xbox Hacking Book Selling Fast


Hacker-engineer Andrew "Bunnie" Huang says he's already pre-sold between

400

and 500 copies of his self-published tell-all "Hacking the Xbox: an

Introduction to Reverse Engineering," weeks before its scheduled May

27th

publication date, despite -- or perhaps because of -- looming

suspicions by

some that the book skirts the edges of legality.

"It' s about getting the book out there on principle, because I can't

find a

publisher willing to publish it," says Huang. "I think it's

controversial,

but not illegal."

With chapters on "Soldering Techniques" and "Installing a Blue LED,"

Huang's

how-to may not seem an obvious candidate for joining Huckleberry Finn

and

Harry Potter on history's sad list of once-banned books. But Microsoft,

the

maker of the Xbox, has taken a dim view of home modifications of the

game

console, focusing its litigious ire in particular on "mod chips" that

allow

Xbox owners to run software that Microsoft hasn't approved and licensed.

With a mod chip installed, users can run everything from virtual juke

boxes

to the Linux operating system on the game platform -- as well as pirated

copies of Xbox games.

Last year, a Microsoft lawsuit temporarily shut down the Hong Kong-based

company Lik Sang, which sold mod chips over the Internet. And last

month,

mod chip entrepreneur David Rocci was sentenced

to

five months in federal custody for conspiracy to violate the Digital

Millennium Copyright Act. Rocci was the proprietor of a U.S. website

that

sold mod chips and helped users locate pirated copies of Xbox games to

run

on their modified machines.

Huang says his book describes some types of mod chips -- explains how

they

work, and what lessons they offer designers of secure hardware

platforms.

For example the "Matrix" chip installs solderlessly over a test port

manufacturers left on the Xbox motherboard. "You don't leave these test

structures on the motherboard, if you want it secure," says Huang.

Another

chapter helps readers replace the machine's firmware -- a mod chip trick

used by sophisticated pirates and tinkerers. "They can be used by the

pirating community, and they can be used by the Linux community -- so

that

one chapter that talks about firmware devices plays to the Linux

community,"

says Huang. "I believe that should be a legal activity."

DMCA FEARS. The book also revisits a technique that cemented Huang's reputation as a

hardware hacker last year, which involves building custom hardware to

intercept an encryption key as it crosses the Xbox's internal high-speed

bus. To avoid legal complications, Huang published his research paper

on

the technique only after receiving permission from Microsoft, negotiated

with the help of EFF attorney Lee Tien. "To get the paper published in

the

first place we had to negotiate a legal mine field," say Tien, who went

on

to contribute a chapter on the legalities of reverse engineering to

Huang's

book.

But Huang didn't get Microsoft's blessing for Hacking the Xbox, which

goes

beyond discussing a single hacking technique. The book aims to teach

readers how to think like a hardware hacker, using the internal secrets

of

the game console the way a med school teacher uses Gray's Anatomy. With

the

boundaries of federal copyright law, particularly the DMCA, unclear,

Huang

says tech-publishing house John Wiley & Sons got cold feet and withdrew

its

plans

to publish the book sometime after Rocci's guilty plea.

Wiley didn't return phone calls on the matter.

Unable to find another publisher, Huang elected to sell the book himself

through the Web. He dug into his own pockets to fund a print run of

1,000

books, which he says will be delivered to his home later this month.

"It'll

be only a matter of two weeks when a pallet of books comes to my

doorstep,"

he says. "Every book will be boxed by my own two hands."

Huang began accepting credit cards through his website this week, after

already

selling nearly half of his initial print run through a PayPal account.

He

says he's barely reached the break-even point. "He's not going to make a

huge amount of money," says Tien. "He thinks that it's worthwhile stuff.

That it's interesting, and it's teaching people."

"Mainly, at this point, it's boiled down to a political battle, for the

freedom to tinker," says Huang. "For my entire life I've been playing

with

hardware. This is the first time someone's told me I can't play with

hardware because it's illegal." By Kevin Poulsen


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