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2017-07-21 14:35:03 +00:00
As the quantity and quality of Apple II software has increased, so has the
incidence of illegal duplication of copyrighted software. To combat this,
software vendors have introduced methods for protecting their software. Since
most protection schemes involve a modified or custom Disk Operating System, it
seems appropriate to discuss disk protection in general.
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Typically, a protection scheme's purpose is to stop unauthorized duplication of
the contents of the diskette, although it may also include, or be limited to,
preventing the listing of the software (if it is in BASIC). This has been
attempted in a variety of ways, all of which necessitate reading and writing
non-standard formats on the disk. If the reader is unclear about how a normal
diskette is formatted, he should refer to Chapter 3 for more information.
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Early protection methods were primitive in comparison to what is being done now.
Just as the methods of protection have improved, so have the techniques people
have used to break them. The cycle seems endless. As new and more
sophisticated schemes are developed, they are soon broken, prompting the
software vendor to try to create even more sophisticated systems.
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It seems reasonable at this time to say that it is impossible to protect a disk
in such a way that it can't be broken. This is, in large part, due to the fact
that the diskette must be "bootable"; i.e. that it must contain at least one
sector (Track 0, Sector 0) which can be read by the program in the PROM on the
disk controller card. This means that it is possible to trace the boot process
by disassembling the normal sector or sectors that must be on the disk. It
turns out that it is even possible to protect these sectors. Because of a lack
of space on the PROM (256 bytes), the software doesn't fully check either the
Address Field or the Data Field. But potential protection schemes which take
advantage of this are limited and must involve only certain changes which will
be discussed below.
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Most protected disks use a modified version of Apple's DOS. This is a much
easier task than writing one's own Disk Operating System and will be the primary
area covered by this discussion.
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Although there are a vast array of different protection schemes, they all
consist of having some portion of the disk unreadable by a normal Disk Operating
System. The two logical areas to alter are the Address Field and the Data
Field. Each include a number of bytes which, if changed, will cause a sector to
be unreadable. We will examine how that is done in some detail.
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The Address Field normally starts with the bytes $D5/$AA/$96. If any one of
these bytes were changed, DOS would not be able to locate that particular
Address Field, causing an error. While all three bytes can and have been
changed by various schemes, it is important to remember that they must be chosen
in such a way as to guarantee their uniqueness. Apple's DOS does this by
reserving the bytes $D5 and $AA; i.e. these bytes are not used in the storage of
data. The sequence chosen by the would-be disk protector can not occur anywhere
else on the track, other than in another Address Field. Next comes the address
information itself (volume, track, sector, and checksum). Some common
techniques include changing the order of the information, doubling the sector
numbers, or altering the checksum with some constant. Any of the above would
cause an I/O error in a normal DOS. Finally, we have the two closing bytes
($DE/$AA), which are similar to the starting bytes, but with a difference.
Their uniqueness is not critical, since DOS will read whatever two bytes follow
the information field, using them for verification, but not to locate the field
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The Data Field is quite similar to the Address Field in that its three parts
correspond almost identically, as far as protection schemes are concerned. The
Data Field starts with $D5/$AA/$AD, only the third byte being different, and all
that applies to the Address Field applies here also. Switching the third bytes
between the two fields is an example of a protective measure. The data portion
consists of 342 bytes of data, followed by a checksum byte. Quite often the
data is written so that the checksum computation will be non-zero, causing an
error. The closing bytes are identical to those of the Address Field ($DE/$AA).
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As mentioned earlier, the PROM on the disk controller skips certain parts of
both types of fields. In particular, neither trailing byte ($DE/$AA) is read or
verified nor is the checksum tested, allowing these bytes to be modified even in
track 0 sector 0. However, this protection is easily defeated by making slight
modifications to DOS's RWTS routines, rendering it unreliable as a protective
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In the early days of disk protection, a single alteration was all that was
needed to stop all but a few from copying the disk. Now, with more educated
users and powerful utilities available, multiple schemes are quite commonly
used. The first means of protection was probably that of hidden control
characters imbedded in a file name. Now it is common to find a disk using
multiple non-standard formats written even between tracks.
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A state of the art protection scheme consists of two elements. First, the data
is stored on the diskette in some non-standard way in order to make copying very
difficult. Secondly, some portion of memory is utilized that will be altered
upon a RESET. (For example, the primary text page or certain zero page
locations) This is to prevent the software from being removed from memory
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Recently, several "nibble" or byte copy programs have become available. Unlike
traditional copy programs which require the data to be in a predefined format,
these utilities make as few assumptions as possible about the data structure.
Ever since protected disks were first introduced, it has been asked, "why can't
a track be read into memory and then written back out to another diskette in
exactly the same way?". The problem lies with the self-sync or auto-sync bytes.
(For a full discussion see Chapter 3) These bytes contain extra zero bits that
are lost when read into memory. In memory it is impossible to determine the
difference between a hexadecimal $FF that was data and a hex $FF that was a
self-sync byte. Two solutions are currently being implemented in nibble copy
programs. One is to analyze the data on a track with the hope that the sync
gaps can be located by deduction. This has a high probability of success if 13
or 16 sectors are present, even if they have been modified, but may not be
effective in dealing with non-standard sectoring where sectors are larger than
256 bytes. In short, this method is effective but by no means foolproof. The
second method is simple but likewise has a difficulty. It simply writes every
hex $FF found on the track as if it were a sync byte. This, however, will
expand the physical space needed to write the track back out, since sync bytes
require 25% more room. If enough hex $FF's occur in the data, the track will
overwrite itself. This can happen in general if the drive used to write the
data is significantly slower than normal. Thus, we are back to having to
analyze the data and, in effect, make some assumptions. It appears that, apart
from using some hardware device to help find the sync bytes, a software program
must make some assumptions about how the data is structured on the diskette.
The result of the introduction of nibble copy programs has been to "force the
hand" of the software vendors. The initial response was to develop new
protection schemes that defeated the nibble copy programs. More recent
protection schemes, however, involve hardware and timing dependencies which
require current nibble copy programs to rely heavily upon the user for
direction. If the present trend continues, it is very likely that protection
schemes will evolve to a point where automated techniques cannot be used to
defeat them.
.nx appendix c.1