The algorithm is interesting mostly in that it isn’t very good. I mentioned in my post analyzing Adobe’s ADEPT system that ADEPT is a fairly well-designed cryptographic system, even if not a very effective DRM system. Adobe used all standard algorithms applied in standards ways and glued together with standard plumbing. Barnes and Noble’s key derivation algorithm in contrast is neither effective at increasing obfuscation nor shows much awareness of cryptographic standards.

Cryptography is

*hard*. Do you know how different configurations of your chosen algorithms can make them more or less resistant to side-channel attacks? Do you understand why RSA Laboratories switched the recommended RSA padding scheme in PKCS#1 to OAEP? Do you know the implications of different block cipher modes of operation and why or why not you should choose a mode which includes integrity protection? These questions represent a random sampler platter of things you should just know in your bones before you do anything close to designing a cryptosystem. For everyone else – a category in which I include myself – there are well-reviewed, well-tested algorithms presented in standards documents published by such organizations as RSA Laboratories and the IETF.

For key derivation from non-random source data, there is in particular the PBKDF2 (Password-Based Key Derivation Function) published in PKCS#5. My point is not that the key-derivation algorithm used by B&N

*necessarily*has cryptographically undesirable properties (although its computation speed makes brute-force attacks more plausible), but that the fact that they rolled their own instead of reaching for PBKDF2 shows a marked lack of cryptographic savvy.

On the DRM-as-obfuscation end this algorithm similarly come up short. The multiple steps involved demonstrate some level of attempt to introduce complexity, but in the resulting binary all those steps are in one place. The entire algorithm boils down to one function calling a handful of easily-labeled subroutines (sha1_wrapper, normalize_name, aes_encrypt, etc).

I really am starting to think that e-book format providers actively want their DRM schemes to be broken.