Planet PDF Weblog
A daily chronicle of Acrobat/PDF-oriented newsbits

For week beginning 2 December 2002
By Kurt Foss, Planet PDF Editor

Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday


NOTE: Previous Weblogs will be archived at the end of each week, and start fresh here. You can also catch up on the most recent Weblog (there were no entries during the week of Thanksgiving).

THURSDAY

'Dreamer Geniuses' and the new Adobe Realities: As already mentioned this week, Adobe Systems is celebrating a milestone event as the company turned 20 years old on December 2. An interesting article in today's San Jose Mercury News, and posted on its Web site, puts the company's past and future in perspective. The item titled "At 20, Adobe celebrates and contemplates" by SJMN staff writer Jon Fortt, compares and contrasts the company as co-founded and run by John Warnock and Charles Geschke -- dubbed in the article as "dreamer geniuses, both now retired -- with the current Adobe management team and mission headed by President and CEO Bruce Chizen.

"As Adobe celebrates its 20th birthday this week, it does so under a banner of transition," writes Fortt. "Adobe's center of gravity has shifted from its Photoshop and Illustrator tools used by artists and designers, to Acrobat for electronic documents."

Another cited change at Adobe: its attitude toward forced staff reductions in tough times, from a company that "once trembled at the thought of layoffs" to one that recently experienced its second significant round of nearly 300 firings within a year, reportedly part of an effort to transform the company and realign its staff.

Following the successive retirements of first Geschke, then Warnock, Chizen ascended to the helm two years ago after helping the company and its co-founders avoid collapse in 1998. But with the co-founders remaining on the board of directors, the article notes there was "some question at first whether Chizen would have operational freedom."

It's no longer an issue, Fortt writes -- Chizen is now firmly in charge. While the co-founding "father figures" might not make some of the moves undertaken by the new management team, they've apparently come to appreciate the new world order at Adobe.

Following last month's layoffs, which "caused Geschke and Warnock to wince," Warnock confided to the local newspaper that "I must candidly admit that sometimes I don't agree with some of the things that Bruce does, but I let Bruce do his job."

'His job' is changing from that held by his pioneer predecessors. As Fortt writes, Chizen's challenge is "remaking Adobe around its goals to sell electronic document technology to chief information officers at large companies, not just publishing and graphics divisions."

In other words, a company where PDF is King.


   

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WEDNESDAY

Agreement to Testify -- Maybe: In what has the makings of a strange twist in the U.S. v. Elcomsoft trial underway in the District Court of Northern California, news reports are now suggesting that Dmitry Sklyarov may *not* be called to testify for the prosecution -- at least not in person, even though the trial was delayed previously when he was unable to obtain a visa to return to the U.S. in October. And even though charges against Sklyarov in the matter were dropped a year ago in exchange *for* his testimony in the case.

Published reports are now saying that the government prosecutors are hinting that rather than call Sklyarov to the stand on Thursday, they may instead only show in court a videotaped deposition he gave as part of his December 2001 "diversion agreement" to testify. To a lay person, that might suggest the government isn't confident that, if allowed to speak live and freely, the Elcomsoft programmer wouldn't be the "star witness" for the government's case that pre-trial publicity has suggested. As a juror, I'd find it strange to have a videotaped deposition alone when the witness is present and available in the court. News reports suggest that if the prosecution does not call Sklyarov, Elcomsoft attorney Jospeh Burton will do so when he begins his defense. The government reportedly could end its testimony today, with the defense team set to present its case next week.

REMINDER: If you've got a relevant opinion on any aspect of this case -- Acrobat PDF security, eBooks, password recovery software, the DMCA, Elcomsoft, Adobe, etc -- we'd love to hear it in the PDF-Talkback section of the Planet PDF Forum.

In a news release issued by the U.S. Attorney's office last December, the Department of Justice announced that "Dmitry Sklyarov entered into an agreement ... with the United States and admitted his conduct" in a court hearing. Presumably the videotaped deposition involves this alleged 'admission,' some of which is detailed in the written agreement. The DOJ release explains that Sklyarov "agreed to cooperate with the United States in its ongoing prosecution" of Elcomsoft, and that he "will be required to appear at trial and testify truthfully."

Sklyarov's admission apparently includes the following statements:

"Beginning on a date prior to June 20, 2001, and continuing through July 15, 2001, I was employed by the Russian software company, Elcomsoft Co. Ltd. (also known as Elcom Ltd.) (hereinafter "Elcomsoft") as a computer programmer and cryptanalyst.

"Prior to June 20, 2001, I was aware Adobe Systems, Inc. ("Adobe") was a software company in the United States. I was also aware Adobe was the creator of the Adobe Portable Document Format ("PDF"), a computer file format for the publication and distribution of electronic documents. Prior to June 20, 2001, I knew Adobe distributed a program titled the Adobe Acrobat eBook Reader that provided technology for the reading of documents in an electronic format on personal computers. Prior to June 20, 2001, I was aware that documents distributed in the Adobe Acrobat eBook Reader format are PDF files and that specifications of PDF allow for limiting of certain operations, such as opening, editing, printing, or annotating.

"Prior to June 20, 2001, as a part of my dissertation work and as part of my employment with Elcomsoft, I wrote a part of computer program titled the Advanced eBook Processor ("AEBPR"). I developed AEBPR as a practical application of my research for my dissertation and in order to demonstrate weaknesses in protection methods of PDF files. The only use of the AEBPR is to create an unprotected copy of an electronic document. Once a PDF file is decrypted with the AEBPR, a copy is no longer protected by encryption. This is all the AEBPR program does.

"Prior to June 20, 2001, I believed that ElcomSoft planned to post the AEBPR program on the Internet on the company's website www.elcomsoft.com. I believed that the company would charge a fee for a license for the full version of the AEBPR that would allow access to all capabilities of the program.

"After Adobe released a new version of the Adobe Acrobat eBook Reader that prevented the initial version of the AEBPR program from removing the limitations or restrictions on an e-book, I wrote software revisions for a new version of the AEBPR program. The new version again decrypted the e-document to which it was applied. The version of this new AEBPR program offered on the Elcomsoft website only decrypted a portion of an e-document to which it was applied, unless the user had already purchased a fully functional version of the earlier version and had both versions installed on the same machine. The new version was developed after June 29, 2001. At that time, Elcomsoft had already stopped selling the program. The version of this new program offered on the Elcomsoft website did not provide a user with an opportunity to purchase it or convert it to a fully functional one, and was developed as a matter of competition.

"On July 15, 2001, as part of my employment with Elcomsoft, I attended the DEF CON Nine conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. At the conference I made a presentation originally intended for the BlackHat conference that immediately preceded the DefCon Nine in July 2001 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The same group of people organizes both BlackHat and DefCon Nine. Since there was no available slot for a presentation at BlackHat at the time when the paper was sent for the committee consideration, the organizers of both conferences suggested that the paper be presented at the DefCon rather than at BlackHat. The paper that I read at DefCon is attached as Exhibit A. A principal part of my presentation is comprised of my research for the dissertation. In my presentation when I said "we", I meant Elcomsoft."

About Advanced eBook Processor

This won't be the first time Sklyarov has appeared on videotape discussing the Advanced eBook Processor software that's at the heart of the case. His "eBooks Security: Theory and Practice" presentation at DEFCON 9 in Las Vegas in July 2001, shortly before his arrest by the FBI, was recorded and later made available online for purchase ($29), along with other conference speaker presentations.

Planet PDF purchased a copy of Sklyarov's hour-long presentation so we could see and hear for ourselves exactly what was said and demonstrated -- at least while the camera was running. We presented an overview of the video in an article titled "Now Showing: Dmitry Sklyarov's Las Vegas Gamble." During his talk, Sklyarov explains the motivation for the research on eBook security solutions and eventual development of the AEBPR program, and details flaws in existing security solutions, including Adobe PDF-based eBooks distributed using Adobe's high-end, Content Server-based security. Sklyarov says his academic research on the topic of eBooks security was in part motivated by vendor claims that he says overstate the level of protection, giving publishers and others who invest in such systems a false sense of security. On its Web site, Adobe rhetorically asks, then answers, the question "How secure are eBooks?" by saying its Content Server solution offers "the highest level of encryption," adding:

"The Adobe Content Server supports leading digital rights management schemes and includes the highest level of encryption technology licensed from the industry leader, RSA Laboratories. There are two levels of encryption: 64 bit and 128 bit. With 64-bit encryption, there are 20 billion possible keys to decipher the coded information, and only one of them works. Someone intercepting the information would have to find the right key a nearly impossible task. With 128-bit encryption, the number of possible keys is the square of the number of 64-bit keys. It is virtually impossible for an unauthorized party to find the right key, even if that party is equipped with the best computers."

In addition to the controversial AEBPR software that Elcomsoft stopped selling under pressure from Adobe's Anti-Piracy team, Sklyarov also discusses the general principles of and "standard" PDF security available in Acrobat, which is based on the use of two different passwords. Elcomsoft sells a separate password recovery program -- Advanced PDF Password Recovery (APDFPR) -- that can be "used to decrypt protected Adobe Acrobat PDF files" -- including any PDF-based eBooks secured with Adobe Acrobat's Standard Security Handler. APDFPR sells for $30 for the personal version and $60 for a "Pro" edition, both which are available from RegNow -- the same U.S. company that briefly sold Elcomsoft's allegedly illegal $99 program for decrypting Adobe PDF-based eBooks.

PDF file encryption

There's at least one other touch of irony related to the current trial's legal issues and software companies. Elcomsoft offers on its Web site a free software tool called "Advanced eBook Explorer" that can be used to manage a collection of eBooks. Among its features is the ability to view various details such as file name and size, book ID (e.g. ISBN), title, author, publisher, category, and number of pages, permissions granted by the publishers -- "whether or not you can copy any text selections, print any pages, lend/give the book to someone else, and use the 'Read Aloud' button to listen to the book" -- and perhaps more significantly, to see which fonts are used in eBooks. The latter capability is especially relevant. Two font companies recently charged that Adobe is in violation of the DMCA -- Yes, the very same, controversial law -- because of the way its Acrobat software allegedly embeds fonts in some cases where certain font companies no longer allow it without additional licensing.


   

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TUESDAY

Elcomsoft in San Jose on 'Adobe Day': Who would have expected Dmitry Sklyarov, Alexander Katalov and Vladimir Katalov -- the three Elcomsoft Amigos from Moscow, Russia -- to arrive in San Jose in time for what the City of San Jose declared to be "Adobe Day," an honor commemorating the company's now-20-year history. John Warnock and Charles Geschke founded the software company two decades back on December 2.

It's highly unlikely U.S. District Court Judge Ronald M. Whyte had Adobe's founding date in mind when he -- in a sense -- invited the Elcomsoft trio to visit San Jose on (or at least by) that very day. Whyte, of course, was not involved in planning the Adobe ceremonial affair, but rather in making arrangements for an important trial to finally get underway in the District Court of Northern California.

This time the U.S. State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) cooperated, after denying visas to two of the expected trial witnesses in October and forcing Whyte for the second time to re-schedule the first trial involving criminal charges -- against Elcomsoft -- of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed into U.S. law in 1998.

If you don't by now know the story and key events that have led to this trial, it's easiest to catch up by browsing the comprehensive index and timeline we began developing (but stopped updating early this year) on news related to this story from the time it first began in late June 2001. The index includes some of our own coverage, which at several points in time included some exclusive first reports. At the time, Planet PDF had a sister Web site called Planet eBook (which temporarily still exists, but has been mothballed), so as the charges involved the alleged decryption of Adobe's eBook security, much of our early coverage appeared first on that eBook-focused site. We've begun to move some of those articles to Planet PDF pages.

We in fact were the first to break the news on July 16, 2001 of the FBI's detainment and eventual arrest of Sklyarov, a young software programmer for the company, following the DEFCON 9 convention in Las Vegas at which he spoke -- on the topic of eBook security (or apparent lack of same). We also were the first to report a year ago that charges were dropped eventually against Sklyarov in exchange for his testimony in a future trial (the company still is under indictment). He was allowed to return to Russia in December 2001 after a five-month forced stay in the United States. This past October, we published the first report that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow had denied visa applications from Sklyarov and Alexander Katalov, Elcomsoft's CEO, forcing the second postponement and third trial date. Judge Whyte set December 2 as the next possible court opening to begin what some are calling a landmark copyright case, the first involving criminal charges of violating the controversial DMCA.

Nearly a year after Sklyarov rejoiced in finally getting to leave the U.S. and return to Russia, he -- with his employers and colleagues -- is back in San Jose. There's great irony that the Russian threesome got to town just in time -- if they were so inclined -- to help celebrate Adobe's 20-year anniversary. Of course, that scenario is implausible. Sklyarov's FBI arrest, for those who may have slept through the subsequent worldwide protests and boycotts, was triggered by a complaint lodged by Adobe Systems with the U.S. Attorney's Office. Adobe reported that Elcomsoft had developed and was selling on the Internet a software product -- Advanced eBook Processor (AEBPR) -- that could be used to decrypt Adobe PDF-based eBooks, thus removing the copyright protection set by publishers. Adobe maintains on its Web site an Elcomsoft FAQ detailing the legal background. Even though Adobe later withdrew its charges -- under pressure and facing protests -- the government chose to pursue the matter.

The trial began yesterday with jury selection, and opening statements and first prosecution witnesses are expected today. According to published news reports, the judge has indicated jury deliberations will begin on or around December 12. Although we're not covering it live, we'll of course be following the case with great interest -- on many levels. We'll also continue posting observations in this Weblog throughout the trial, based on the reported testimony and on our own extensive familiarity with certain aspects of the case.

One of the most often-misreported aspects of the case suggests that Sklyarov copped an agreement with prosecutors that led to charges against him being dropped, supposedly -- according to many news accounts -- in exchange for his testimony 'against' his employers, for whom he still works. The software programmer and his attorney addressed that misconception in a press conference before he departed the U.S., emphasizing that he had not made any agreement to testify against Elcomsoft, but rather that had agreed only to truthfully testify in court -- and to let the chips fall where they may. Certainly there's an *expectation* by the U.S. Government prosecutors that the information and insights Sklyarov can provide during testimony will be detrimental to Elcomsoft's case. At the same time, you can't help but sense there's a genuine bond between Sklyarov and his employers, who stood by and with him throughout his ordeal until he was freed. So there'll be unspoken pressure on him from both sides when time for his testimony arrives. That could be one of the key moments of the trial.

If you've got a relevant opinion on any aspect of this case -- Acrobat PDF security, eBooks, password recovery software, the DMCA, Elcomsoft, Adobe, etc -- we'd love to hear it in the PDF-Talkback section of the Planet PDF Forum.


   

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MONDAY

PDF and Imaging: During several recent public presentations, several Adobe Systems' spokesfolks have signalled a future area of focus for PDF -- as a standard imaging format. That's not really surprising given the company's stable of desktop-oriented graphics software products, including its dominant Photoshop application for high-end imaging. The lower-end version, Photoshop Elements, already features slideshow-as-PDF capabilities. And during the company's recent meeting with industry analysts in late October, Adobe's Bryan Lamkin, Senior VP of the Digital Imaging and Video Business Unit, outlined a future image management product based on PDF, and further underscored the company's intent to drive PDF as a key component of Adobe imaging solutions.

That said, during the recent PDF Conference 2002, a few imaging-savvy participants seemed intent on jump-starting the PDF-for-imaging movement, to the extent that at several points the conference seemed as much about the capabilities of Photoshop as Acrobat. Put another way, there were some light-hearted moments at the DigiPub Solutions-produced event, and most often they were based on some combination of Elvis, Photoshop and/or PDF. In addition to more serious highlights from some of the conference's key sessions on which we'll continue reporting elsewhere on Planet PDF this week-after-Thanksgiving, we wanted to digress a bit in the Weblog to share a few of the more spontaneous happenings.

As past conference attendees should have gleaned, there often are a few good-natured shenanigans among a number of the regular conference speakers, who take turns looking for opportunities to nurture audience laughter at the expense of a fellow panelist. That can come in many forms, but frequently takes place in the midst of a topical session -- often is incorporated into the speaker's official presentation. One of the active instigators usually is Ted Padova, author of the Acrobat 5 PDF Bible and several other books about Acrobat/PDF and other software products. Perhaps looking to beat some of his fellow speakers to the punch, Padova featured himself cloned as an Elvis-wanabee in one of his conference presentations on and in PDF. But he put the bullseye on himself when, near the end of one of his presentations, he unveiled what he claimed to be the cover of a sensationalistic tabloid called the PDF Enquirer, featuring a number of fabricated news headlines from the world of PDF.

Elvis Ted Padova

The scandal rag's alleged top story -- which of course one needed some context to fully appreciate -- included a headshot of Planet PDF's CEO, who frequently boasts that he doesn't even own a printer and reads everything online, with a headline exclaiming "Karl De Abrew Purchases Laser Printer! Prints PDF files from printer hidden in closet." Other equally preposterous coverage included a Padova-esque feature titled "EXCLUSIVE: Max Wyss creates one-page PDF Form," an obvious (to some) spoof of the Swiss master of complex PDF forms.

PDF Enquirer cover

Of course Padova knew he had set himself up for retaliation, and it was fairly predictable when that might happen -- at the next day's Power Panel session, moderated by De Abrew. Padova just happened to be one of the select experts on the panel. As he introduced each of the assembled experts ready to field questions from attendees, De Abrew flashed on the large screen behind them a suitably re-composited image in PDF of that panelist. The image-doctoring theme -- with the conference being held in Las Vegas -- was of course: more Elvis! A headshot of each panelist had been superimposed on a different photo of The King -- i.e. PDF Sage's Leonard Rosenthol as surfing Elvis, Adobe's Lori DeFurio as strumming Elvis, etc.

Elvis LeonardElvis Lori

Last to be introduced was of course Padova, the self-proclaimed Elvis impersonator, who by now was twisting uncomfortably to see the screen behind him rather than facing the audience. Elvis bride TedDe Abrew allowed the suspense to build, waiting until Padova had shifted his focus back to the session attendees to display the digitally altered likeness -- unlike the others, *not* an Elvis impersonation. Rather, Padova as a bride-to-be.

You really had to be there to appreciate the moments, of course. But to help re-create them, we're pleased to offer each of the previously described documents for download in PDF -- and there's a bonus doctored-image-as-PDF from the same session, in which De Abrew briefly acted out a local Las Vegas billboard about an apparently Chippendale-like act -- dubbed "Thunder from Down Under" -- performing elsewhere in the Sin City that IRS' resident rep and comic Paul Showalter had implied earlier in the conference actually was featuring De Abrew and Planet PDF sidekick and fellow Aussie Daniel Shea.

Karl Thunder Down Under

You can pretty much count on some form of continued retribution and levity at the next PDF Conference, tentatively being planned for the Washington, DC area in the June 2003 timeframe, according to organizers. That's not the real benefit of attending, but it does help to give the educational event an entertaining touch.

And to a degree, the conversion and presentation of images in PDF dovetails with Adobe's stated future intentions to expand the format's range of applications. We suspect this probably isn't quite what they had in mind, but you take what you can get for pioneers!


   

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