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Old 09-07-2013, 05:43 PM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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Anti-piracy watermark in e-books gets disassembled, it's a tiny barcode!

Last month we learned how the anti-piracy outfit BREIN is able to track down suspected e-book pirates by matching digital watermarks inside e-books with the transaction records they receive from e-book sellers (not without causing a political controversy). If you've caught yourself wondering how such a digital watermark looks like, a computer science student at the University of Twente was able to get his hands on a watermarked EPUB file and dissected it into pieces. The result is astonishingly simple: embedded on every page in the book is a minuscule image that turns out to be an ordinary barcode. This barcode contains the transaction code which uniquely identifies the e-book purchase.

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Other pages in the book all have the same image at the bottom that is nearly impossible to notice with your naked eye. The image is embedded as a Based64 encoded string (see the image depicted above), decoding (using the openssl base64 command) it results in an image with the dimensions of 1 by a few hundred pixels. When seen with a naked eye it looks like a thin white line. [...]

When mapping the 7-bit blocks to characters you can see almost immediately that it results in a string equal to the transaction code. So, the barcode you find on each page in the book represents the transaction code encoded in 7-bit ASCII.
So is that really all? The author of the post doesn't exclude the possibility of other "invisible" watermarks, such as random variations in text or punctuation. How to know for sure? By comparing two separate purchases of the same book.
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Old 09-07-2013, 07:23 PM   #2
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Interesting-but rather useless IMO. There's no need for a digital watermark to be visible at all. Not simply 'nearly impossible to notice' but totally impossible to notice except by looking at the code. And if you look at the code you'll notice whatever the watermark is, as this discovery of the BREIN watermark demonstrates. The only way I can think of to not 'notice' the watermark would be for the code to look the same even though it was doing something different. Steganography-maybe that's what BREIN was trying to do & they were just rather clumsy at it.
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Old 09-07-2013, 07:32 PM   #3
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Maybe they're just trying to catch the people who don't know better.

The ones who do know better would just compare multiple documents in an attempt to pull out the common bits and remove the bits with encoded information, or use some scheme that would mangle the encoded information if they only have a single copy of the document. That would make those people harder to catch, so why bother going to the expense of trying to catch them if they can drive piracy far enough underground by discouraging the naive pirates?
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Old 09-07-2013, 07:32 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Alexander Turcic View Post
Last month we learned how the anti-piracy outfit BREIN is able to track down suspected e-book pirates by matching digital watermarks inside e-books with the transaction records they receive from e-book sellers (not without causing a political controversy). If you've caught yourself wondering how such a digital watermark looks like, a computer science student at the University of Twente was able to get his hands on a watermarked EPUB file and dissected it into pieces. The result is astonishingly simple: embedded on every page in the book is a minuscule image that turns out to be an ordinary barcode. This barcode contains the transaction code which uniquely identifies the e-book purchase.



So is that really all? The author of the post doesn't exclude the possibility of other "invisible" watermarks, such as random variations in text or punctuation. How to know for sure? By comparing two separate purchases of the same book.
If these books are watermarked, why do they go to the expense of putting DRM on them? Just wondering.
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Old 09-07-2013, 07:54 PM   #5
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If these books are watermarked, why do they go to the expense of putting DRM on them? Just wondering.
Possibly for prosecution. Although laws are probably different in European courts in the US you can't 'entice' somebody into committing a crime. If you want to prosecute then you need to take 'normal' defensive measures. Not all courts draw the line in the same place but there have been cases where a charge of trespassing has been dismissed because there were no signs on the property prohibiting it. AFAIK there have been no cases of theft dismissed for similar reasons so the rulings might not apply (even if European laws are the same) but the prudent course would be to assume they do & 'post a sign' by putting DRM on the books.
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Old 09-07-2013, 08:15 PM   #6
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So basically, all the information is just there, in plain sight, obfusticated a bit.

To someone who knows computers and programming, this sort of encoding (Unix timestamps, base64 for an image, sometimes used to "embed" many small images in HTML code, to prevent server file requests) is the same as trying to "encode" a message by writing it backward and hoping no-one will notice.

Using Sigil's search and replace, this watermark can be removed within seconds.

Last edited by Katsunami; 09-07-2013 at 08:21 PM.
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Old 09-07-2013, 08:15 PM   #7
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One, that's not a barcode. It's a serial number. One is an image while the other is text. Okay, that is really a po-tay-toe po-tah-toe difference but I am feeling nitpicky today.

Also why would anyone wonder what a digital watermark looked like? We already knew what Booxtream put into the Pottermore ebooks:
http://www.the-digital-reader.com/20...by-booxstream/

Curiously enough, the Booxtream digital watermark used in Pottermore seems to be entirely different. Pottermore doesn't use that embedded serial number on every page. Maybe the above example came from a fixed layout textbook?
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Old 09-07-2013, 08:29 PM   #8
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BTW, that's probably not the only digital watermark in that ebook. The source has admitted on Twitter that he didn't check the images in the ebook.
https://twitter.com/koenrh/status/376384971545788416
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Old 09-07-2013, 09:00 PM   #9
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Would this not be defeated by a simple conversion to another format?
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Old 09-07-2013, 09:12 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Katsunami View Post
So basically, all the information is just there, in plain sight, obfusticated a bit.

To someone who knows computers and programming, this sort of encoding (Unix timestamps, base64 for an image, sometimes used to "embed" many small images in HTML code, to prevent server file requests) is the same as trying to "encode" a message by writing it backward and hoping no-one will notice.

Using Sigil's search and replace, this watermark can be removed within seconds.
Perhaps the obfustication is to keep it from ruining the reading experience? If I was buying an ebook that was watermarked, my main objection would be having to view this watermark interspersed with the text. If the purpose is scare tactics then why hide or minimise it? (not saying that you said that it was)

My biggest problem with watermarks is if they interfere with the story I am trying to read. Give me a non intrusive method of DRM any day.

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Old 09-07-2013, 09:26 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Nate the great View Post
BTW, that's probably not the only digital watermark in that ebook. The source has admitted on Twitter that he didn't check the images in the ebook.
https://twitter.com/koenrh/status/376384971545788416
Steganography...

That's a term I've not encountered before. I must look into that.
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Old 09-07-2013, 09:30 PM   #12
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Steganography...

That's a term I've not encountered before. I must look into that.
I doubt the watermark is that complicated. It is probably embedded as part of the metadata.
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Old 09-08-2013, 02:01 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Nate the great View Post
One, that's not a barcode. It's a serial number. One is an image while the other is text. Okay, that is really a po-tay-toe po-tah-toe difference but I am feeling nitpicky today.
It is a barcode. It's in there, in form of a Base64-encoded string.

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Other pages in the book all have the same image at the bottom that is nearly impossible to notice with your naked eye. The image is embedded as a Based64 encoded string (see the image depicted above), decoding (using the openssl base64 command) it results in an image with the dimensions of 1 by a few hundred pixels. When seen with a naked eye it looks like a thin white line. If you use the eyedropper tool to inspect the image you will see that it consists of bars of variable widths in two different colors: white (#FFFFFF) and a little bit less white (#FEFEFE). When you replace either of the colors with black and enlarge the image vertically by 100 pixels you will see an image of a barcode similar to the one depicted below.
Click image for larger version

Name:	barcode.png
Views:	148
Size:	1.2 KB
ID:	110567

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Also why would anyone wonder what a digital watermark looked like?
Curiosity?

Last edited by Alexander Turcic; 09-08-2013 at 02:20 AM.
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Old 09-08-2013, 02:02 AM   #14
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BTW, that's probably not the only digital watermark in that ebook. The source has admitted on Twitter that he didn't check the images in the ebook.
https://twitter.com/koenrh/status/376384971545788416
He doesn't have to admit it. He said so in the original post:

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Do note that information might be encoded in other ways as well, for example using random variations of text. Images (e.g. cover, photos) itself can be watermarked as well.
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Old 09-08-2013, 02:52 AM   #15
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Would this not be defeated by a simple conversion to another format?
That was my first thought as well. I can't really see how it could survive the conversion process (but then I'm hardly an expert). If it doesn't, then it's essentially useless.
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