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Scary! Stephen King e-book pirated

Hackers give e-book publishers the horrors - cracking encryption key for PDF version of King novella and distributing it free online

The Stephen King novella "Riding the Bullet" may have been even more popular online than was previously thought.

The story, exclusively released in an electronic version two weeks ago, set records as users rushed online to download copies. But at least a few users bypassed the $2.50 (£1.57) fee charge by most sites, instead downloading pirated copies that quickly made their way online.

Len Kawell, president of Glassbook, one of the e-book publishers distributing the story, confirmed that hackers had attacked the encryption technology used to protect the story from copyright violations.

Unencrypted PDF versions of the novella quickly made their way onto several Web sites, most of which have since been removed. But directions on how to find the story were still available on newsgroups this week.

"The reality is there's no such thing as an invincible copy protection system," Kawell said. "It's impractical to make it both invincible and usable."

Kawell said the book was initially released using a 40-bit encryption key, the strongest then available for export. The company has since updated to a 64-bit key.

While the monetary losses were likely negligible -- the novella was being given away for free at many booksellers -- the greater concern is that the piracy could scare off authors and publishers from this technology.

"We have to look at this as a two-fold thing. There's a technical problem and anti-piracy patrolling problem," Kawell said. "We all have to jump in and get it off the Net."

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