If traditional media want to find a new life (and new money) on the iPad, they better be more careful about security: Many newspaper apps can be fooled, making it easy to get free issues readers are supposed to pay for.
Italian news website Il Post was showed by "hacking research center" Dark Apples how to do it, and we can confirm that it is a very simple task. We tried it on a couple of important Italian dailies -- il Corriere della Sera and la Gazzetta dello Sport -- and two Condé Nast US publications: the New Yorker and Wired (we informed people at RCS, Condé Nast and Adobe about the issue and our story). No need for hard core hacking and cracking: All a moderately-skilled iPad user has to do is connect the iPad to his laptop, search inside the iPad files with a common managing software (we used iPhone Explorer), copy the .plist file that manage the download information and correct a single field. This boils down to changing a single word: Where it says "purchasable" you write "viewable" instead, and copy back the file on the iPad. Now all you need to do is click on "delete" the magazine issue on the iPad app and a "download" button will appear instead of the "buy" button. It means you can download the magazine for free.
Vulnerability issues affect many different apps, but these ones are the easier to confront. Managers of the Italian dailies told us they are investigating the problem, while people at Adobe -- which manages the ipad apps of the New Yorker and Wired -- wrote us they are "very concerned by piracy issues". ""We have confirmed that it is possible for experienced users with detailed instructions to access some digital publications on the iPad that have not been purchased. We are working on a fix and expect to deliver a new version of our Digital Content Viewer to publishers on Friday, October 8", an Adobe sposkesperson said.
But today, the new issue of the New Yorker is still "viewable".
Editor's note: An earlier version of this posts incorrectly stated that "Adobe manages Condé Nast iPad apps". In fact, Condé Nast only manages apps for the New Yorker and Wired. All other electronic magazine apps are developed by Conde Nast Digital.