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Save on technology access fees by using reverse engineering

Published on 06 December 13
Reverse engineering can save you a small fortune when applied to fee-supported technology, and that includes both copyright locks and news website paywalls. Applicable laws vary among countries, and you should always check (and obey) the rules wherever you are, but recent court decisions are moving in the direction of approving reverse engineering for noncommercial purposes.

Most reverse engineering is done by manufacturers or the armed forces, who disassemble and study something in order to figure out how a useful object like a machine or a piece of software was constructed and how it operates. The goal is to abstract the principle or replicate the object, and among nations China is especially known for using the technique to build military hardware from other countries' designs.

Reverse engineering at the consumer level

Consumers use much simpler types of reverse engineering to avoid paying extortionate fees to read news or play games, and these methods are usually shared on the web. One of the best-known feats of demotic reverse engineering ever achieved in the UK belongs to Anthony Timson, who needed his Motorola mobile reprogrammed in the 1990s and was justly horrified at the large sum Motorola wanted him to pay.

Timson noticed that Motorola's official reprogramming entered the mobile through a particular port, realized that port was a perfect entry point for his efforts, and over the course of several months came up with a software hack that would permit Timson to use his mobile the way he preferred, at no extra charge.

The program fell into the wrong hands, Timson now disavows writing it, and the full story has faded from the web after twenty years, but internal documentation belonging to the mobile industry still contains Timson's candid interviews with a highly perturbed Motorola. Timson was once quoted as saying the key to success was understanding when an opportunity presents itself, and that is exactly what you'll need to do to avoid unnecessary fees.

How to gain control over your mobile

There's a great deal of interest generated by the prospect of reprogramming your own mobile, so you can purchase the phone you want, making use of to provide the much needed funds if necessary, and use and sign up with the carrier you prefer. It's not advisable to try reprogramming a blacklisted phone-- that is, one that has been reported lost or stolen-- because when it's reported, carriers enter your phone's IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number into a blacklist, and deny service to that IMEI number thereafter.

Numerous websites offer information on reprogramming your handset to use your new carrier's account information, because after Timson introduced a means to do so it was no longer possible for mobile providers to remove that option from the market. To learn the history of reprogramming from the technical side, try the Black Crawling Archives, and you can find a brief walkthrough describing the process here.

Learn how to defeat paywalls

Paywalls are one means by which traditional newspapers have tried to recoup revenue lost by declining newspaper circulation. When an online newspaper erects a paywall, it may require you to subscribe and log on to read, or it may allow you so many free articles per month before the subscription requirement kicks in. If you're blocked from reading anything on a site without a subscription you're probably out of luck, but the second model is easy to evade.

The trick in that case comes in recognizing your opportunity, as Timson would say, and realizing that if the site doesn't realize you're over your free article limit, you can continue reading. That realization lets you address the problem of how to tell the site you're under rather than over the limit, and the current best option for doing that is to stop passing on your own IP information to the site.

Using a proxy server sometimes works, but an even more reliable method is to use private browsing. For example, if you use the Firefox browser, you can right-click a paywalled link and choose the Open Link in New Private Window option. If you want to see what the full range of human ingenuity can produce when it wants to avoid paying a user fee, you can search for "Defeat NY Times paywall" and marvel at the number of different techniques people devised.
This blog is listed under Development & Implementations , IT Security & Architecture and Hardware Community

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