Deja Vu II: ElcomSoft's controversial eBook Security presentation
Alex Katalov slated to offer updated version at Black Hat/Amsterdam in November

By Kurt Foss
August 21, 2001

Alexander Katalov, President of Elcom Soft Ltd., is neither new to -- or apparently fearful of -- controversy.

Following the FBI's arrest last month of ElcomSoft employee Dmitry Sklyarov on charges of violating the U.S-enacted Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Katalov has remained in the U.S. -- for the most part -- to assist with the brewing legal battle.

Katalov was one of four ElcomSoft employees who attended the DEF CON Nine conference in Las Vegas in mid-July, where Sklyarov gave his now-famous "eBooks Security: Theory and Practice" presentation. The software programmer was arrested the next day on a criminal complaint brought to the government by Adobe Systems, alleging in part he is the copyright holder of the Advanced eBook Processor (AEBPR) software program that could be used to circumvent copyright protection in Adobe's eBook technologies.

On the eve of Sklyarov's upcoming August 23 court hearing* in San Jose, CA., Katalov himself appears ready to directly take up the Moscow-based company's potential challenge to what many see in the DMCA as a questionable -- if not unconstitutional -- new bit of legislation. Albeit on somewhat safer turf than Sklyarov's Las Vegas gamble, Katalov is now slated to present an updated version of the same presentation on November 22, 2001 at the Black Hat Briefings security conference in Amsterdam. [* Dmitry's August 23 hearing date has been postponed pending further details on 8/21.]

Meanwhile, the various speaker presentations from DEF CON Nine -- including Sklyarov's ill-fated one -- are now available for purchase as separate videotapes or MP3 files on CD-ROM. [See Planet PDF's review "Now Showing: Dmitry Skylarov's Las Vegas Gamble" of DEF CON Nine videotape #54.]

The Netherlands currently does not have legislation similar to the DMCA, and Katalov apparently feels safe from the reach of the American legal system. That hasn't been the attitude of Dutch programmer Niels Ferguson, who expressed concern at another recent European conference about his ability to freely publish and present his own research findings about his alleged cracking of Intel's HDCP Digital Video Encryption System. Ferguson said he fears being prosecuted or sued under the U.S.' DMCA.

Russian media and Internet sites covering the Sklyarov case report that Katalov had returned briefly to Moscow last week with a warrant to gather documents that may be needed for Sklyarov's defense, should the case go to trial.

Several of the Russian-language sites, including CompuLenta, an informational resource covering the computing industry and CompuTerra, a publishing house with a weekly print magazine and a separate Web site, have also been speculating on whether there could (or should) be different and/or expanded charges brought in the U.S. this week. They seem to anticipate that ElcomSoft's top management -- particularly with Katalov back again in the U.S. -- might be named if and when charges are filed in California. The latest version of ElcomSoft's AEBPR program (no longer available) and its associated documentation cited the company as the copyright holder.

If that's not enough potential courtroom drama, CompuLenta also cites a recent report from the country's Interfax news agency saying Sklyarov may be contemplating bringing suit against certain Russian media organizations that allegedly falsely accused him of violating Russian law, further suggesting that the young software programmer be tried and punished if/when he returns home.

At least one Russia media organization (NTV) recently reported that the country's high-tech Ministry of the Interior crime police had not only conducted a search of Sklyarov's apartment, but that they discovered evidence of serious criminal activity in violation of national law. That report was subsequently proven to be false and totally without merit, and NTV was forced to recant its report.

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