View Full Version : Special Report : Mobile Software Piracy BiNPDA

17-12-2009, 04:52 PM
Mobile Software Piracy

FierceDeveloper Investigates the Mobile Warez Scene

Warez (pronounced "wares") is slang for software that has been cracked--that is, the copy protection has been removed and the software is ready for illegal redistribution. Major software publishers and law enforcement agencies often focus on commercial warez--shady dealers selling unlicensed copies of software, often to customers who don't know any better. But not everyone is in it for the money. Many pirates view themselves as modern day Robin Hoods--stealing software from the software companies and giving it to the poor.

"We crack for fun, to optimize our reverse engineering experiences and, to some degree, for the benefits," says BiNPDA, a mobile software pirate. BiNPDA's group is well known in the PDA warez scene--each month they are responsible for the release of dozens of new cell phone games, PDA utilities and mobile business applications.

The "NFO" file distributed with a recent BiNPDA release

BiNPDA is aggresivly anti-commercial--it's considered bad form to associate with commercial pirates--but the group does gain notoriety thanks to a ranking system in which points are awarded for successful releases. BiNPDA's work also earns access to "topsites," the high-speed servers full of illegal content that sit at the top of the warez food chain. (For more on how topsites work, read Jeff Howe's excellent Wired article, "The Shadow Internet.")


Mobile Warez History

The rise of mobile software piracy, of course, follows the rise of mobile software. "For every platform there has to be someone," BiNPDA writes, "and PDA was the one that attracted us the most."

Generally lax security, simple programming and small filesizes make mobile software an attractive target for pirates. Pirating modern desktop applications is a lot of work; the registration systems are complicated and the end result is often a very large file that must be redistributed. BiNPDA's pirated version of Digital Chocolate's Beach Ping Pong 3D, by comparison, is a mere 200 KB. Cracks or patch files, which can be used to transform a trial version of a piece of software into a full version, are often just a handful of bytes. Databases with thousands of serial numbers and patches are floating around the Internet and P2P file sharing networks.

It's impossible to talk about PDA and cell phone piracy without talking about the PalmOS. The PalmOS software ecosystem has been around for nearly a decade--an eternity in the software world and the platform has seen more than its fair share of pirates.

Mike Mace, former Chief Competitive Officer and VP of Product Planning at Palm, blames warez as a significant factor in the apparent decline of mobile software sales. In a June 2006 blog post, he writes:
As you know, far more applications are "cracked"/"patched" every year than are sold. PalmOS has been especially susceptible to theft due to the extremely weak protection schemes employed. More and more developers are now ceasing to release PalmOS applications and the loss of sales due to the MASSIVE warez movement is a significant reason why developers give up trying to make a living. I've been tracking the PalmOS (and to a lesser degree the Windows Mobile) warez community for a decade and it never ceases to amaze me how many people use stolen software. In fact, most of the people I've met/talked to that are Palm's biggest advocates (administrators/moderators of Palm OS websites, power users, etc.) regularly use warez.

To be fair, there are ways to write relatively secure Palm OS code, as descirbed in this PalmSource article. And there doesn't appear to be any data to support Mike Mace's assertion that more software is cracked than is sold. In fact there is very little hard data on piracy whatsoever, but an analysis of doopes.com--a public "dupe-check" site used by pirates to see what software has already been cracked--generally confirms the conventional wisdom: The warez marketplace largely mirrors trends in the smartphone market. Palm OS, Symbian and Windows Mobile are the most prominent target platforms and Windows Mobile appears to be slowly gaining marketshare from PalmOS. Notably missing from this list is BlackBerry software. RIM's OS is considerably more secure than most mobile operating systems and the shareware markets for BlackBerry devices is far smaller than any of the other Big Three players.


The Casual Pirate

Mike Mace also alludes to another unique aspect of mobile warez: how open people are about using it. C is a popular Web-based forum for mobile device enthusiasts. The site has been around for several years and is host to a knowledgable, friendly community of some 10,000 registered members. The site also prominently features a database of serial numbers that can be used to register shareware applications and games. While many of the serial numbers are certainly out of date, the database has entries for over 2,300 Palm applications and 1,000 PPC applications along with dozens of Smartphone and Symbian applications. This does not even include the separate sections for patches, which modify trial software to remove limitations, or keygens, which can generate a valid registration code for any given user name or IMEI number.

A screenshot of the C forum for exchanging serial numbers


C also features a dedicated section for teaching newcomers how to crack mobile software. "Ok, this should be a cracking course for beginners, so our first target isn't really hard to crack. Our first target is Blackout a small game," begins one of the documents. Many up and coming crackers--and, no doubt, many eventually legitimate programmers--have cut their teeth cracking mobile software.

Members of C agreed to speak with FierceDeveloper on the condition that I not identify their name or the name of the website. One member of C admits that he dabbled in cracking software after joining the forum. He describes it as an intellectual challenge and a way to gain respect. He justifies his actions as pragmatic, "I basically have no income... If I couldn't get a work around, I wouldn't use the software at all. But if I can get the software with a work around, why not? I'm not causing the developer to lose revenue. It's illegal, but so is jay walking and not coming to complete stops."

Another user writes that he uses pirated software because "it is unaffordable for someone in South America."

Fighting back... ?

There's only one big question left: does any of this even matter? Trip Hawkins, the founder and CEO of Digital Chocolate, says his company is more concerned with commercial pirates trying to make money off his games. "When we become aware of blatant commercial piracy we take steps to block it. But it will often pop up somewhere else." It seems silly for the typical consumer to waste time trying to pirate software, he adds. "Mobile content is very inexpensive; I would think it would be more convenient for consumers to just get it the proper way."

Many smaller publishers also find it easier to simply overlook warez altogether. "Our main approach on piracy that we try to follow is that this is a fight which is not worth fighting for us, a small company", writes Amit Regev, a Senior Developer with SBSH Mobile Software. "We have no way of winning anyway."

While no mobile developers were willing to address this issue on the record, some developers privately view piracy as a good thing. The theory is that anything that exposes users to their product is good thing. Piracy as a marketing channel, essentially.

"We did have one request to release a particular developer's software in order to boost sales," writes BiNPDA. "We didn't agree to that. Our group is not a commercial group, and we're not there to push sales."

18-12-2009, 04:54 PM
Very usefull info raju..
Thanks bro...