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BBC threatens iPlayer hackers with mild annoyance

With the tedious inevitability of an unloved season, the BBC's iPlayer has provoked a chain of events with as much predictability as a Bond movie.The plot is simple: the BBC wants to do its job, which is to provide entertainment, information and education to Britain with as few barriers as possible.
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With the tedious inevitability of an unloved season, the BBC's iPlayer has provoked a chain of events with as much predictability as a Bond movie.

The plot is simple: the BBC wants to do its job, which is to provide entertainment, information and education to Britain with as few barriers as possible. The Internet being to television what television was to radio, the BBC knows it has to be there, and be there properly. Hence the iPlayer, which delivers TV to people's computers.

People like this. The BBC likes this. Others in the TV industry, never entirely happy with this 'broadcasting' idea in the first place, insist that every effort is made to prevent the wrong people from doing the wrong thing, for various definitions of wrong, so the iPlayer has various mechanisms designed to stop it working under certain circumstances. You know the drill.

Quite a lot of people, some of them very clever, have different definitions of wrong from some in the industry. Thus, these clever people set themselves the task of defeating iPlayer's mechanisms and, being clever, normally succeed. The BBC, having agreed with the industry that this is bad, then has to change its mechanisms - and the whole cycle repeats. As we've seen this with every 'anti-copying' mechanism ever introduced, this is about as surprising as Bond copping a snog from an exotic woman of questionable alliances, then finding himself in great peril as a result.

But the BBC, being a public service broadcaster, is in two minds about the rights and wrongs of the whole business. This may be most obvious from the latest changes made to prevent suspect people -- who appear to be defined as those not running Windows -- from actually saving content (which you can do in about fifty different ways already, but we'll let that pass). Those clever, naughty people had previously found that if they make their computers pretend to be iPhones, they get an unencrypted stream delivered.

At first, the BBC just tried to check harder that it really was an iPhone on the other end - but this never works.

So, at the the end of last week, it switched in some new encryption. At first, the community of clever, naughty people thought that this was Fairplay, Apple's own DRM system. But over the weekend, the truth came out - it was at heart a simple XOR with a sixteen-bit fixed key.

In cryptographic terms, this is as effective as threatening Bond with a poke from a Hello Kitty pencil. "You expect me to talk?" "No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die. Laughing."

It's hard to imagine why anyone thought this worth the effort. The iPlayer-tweaking community will fix this in microseconds, as anyone capable of writing the latest change will know, and those who aren't tuned into that community will be excluded from the fun already.

The only explanation I can think of is that the BBC has to be able to tell the rest of the industry that it's trying, while simultaneously avoiding committing huge resources to a fight it knows it can't win and doesn't believe in anyway.

But it'll happen again and again anyway. That's the problem with the BBC. Bloody repeats.

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