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Is software piracy a problem for you?


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#1 mikro_sk   Members   -  Reputation: 120

Posted 12 October 2012 - 05:51 PM

Hello everyone,

I work for a company called Quadisys, we're a startup. What we have basically is a new kind of copy protection technology.

I read a blog where an indie developer claims that 95% of copies of his game were stolen/pirated! I guess we can help you with that. You'll get better revenues. We will be happy to help you and to spread our technology.

Now you probably ask how come we have something different, there's been tens of companies which claimed the same, right?

I'm not sure if it makes sense to post all technical details on how it works, so only briefly.

Basic features:
- Windows only, both 32-bit and 64-bit
- no java, .net, flash, web stuff
- one time internet activation (user enters a serial number, receives protected file(s) from our server)
- we don't need your source code, only the final build (exe, dll, ...)
- if somebody breaks the protection, all the other (present and future) products wont get automatically crackable! It's something as AES/RSA and similar stuff -- if you break one password with brute force, it doesn't mean you can read everyone's emails
- one dialog on your side, server running on our side (scalable, ready for thousands of activations per minute)

In case of questions / interest you can write me at miroslav.kropacek@quadisys.com or post your questions here.

Sponsor:

#2 Bacterius   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 8504

Posted 13 October 2012 - 06:05 AM

I'm not sure if it makes sense to post all technical details on how it works.

Please do, I would love to have a look at this new technology, particularly if it uses cryptography (which is seldom used in current DRM for good reason) since that's one of my fields of interest.

The slowsort algorithm is a perfect illustration of the multiply and surrender paradigm, which is perhaps the single most important paradigm in the development of reluctant algorithms. The basic multiply and surrender strategy consists in replacing the problem at hand by two or more subproblems, each slightly simpler than the original, and continue multiplying subproblems and subsubproblems recursively in this fashion as long as possible. At some point the subproblems will all become so simple that their solution can no longer be postponed, and we will have to surrender. Experience shows that, in most cases, by the time this point is reached the total work will be substantially higher than what could have been wasted by a more direct approach.

 

- Pessimal Algorithms and Simplexity Analysis


#3 samoth   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 4683

Posted 13 October 2012 - 06:38 AM

Providing more details will also make you look like a more serious provider.

As it is now, my first question would be "one-time activation, how is that supposed to work?". Or, worded differently, user activates online and downloads the protected files, what prevents him from copying those (... and still allows him to upgrade his PC later).
Another question would be what "something like AES/RSA and similar stuff" is supposed to mean exactly. If this is "something like AES/RSA" then the claim that someone breaking a key is not a problem is a quite... brave statement.

#4 ATC   Members   -  Reputation: 551

Posted 13 October 2012 - 08:04 AM

I've done extensive experimentation with software licensing security in my home office "laboratory" (which consists of a PC, cup of coffee, pack of smokes and an assembly-level debugger...OlyDbg). And I've found that about 90% of software is trivial to crack, including my own. So my first thought is what makes this solution you have better than the other 90%?

Most developers take a very naive approach to their licensing authentication (pseudo-code):

[source lang="csharp"] void main() { var key = Environment.GetKey(ActiveUser); bool result = server.AuthenticateLicense(key); if (result) LetProgramRun(); else MessageBox.Show("Invalid license key!"); }[/source]

What this boils down to in assembly language all hinges on a couple instructions (pseudo-assembly language):

MOV EAX, [result]
CMP EAX, 0x0001
JNE [bad_key]
JMP [success]

It's a total walk in the park to crack this. The easiest way is just to overwrite JNE with a NOP, so the code always falls through to "success". Alternatively, one could just change the JNE op to jump to the address of the success proc. That way an invalid license code becomes a valid license code. There are many different variations of this, and its always tackled a bit differently because compilers and assemblers output different instructions. But the point is that the overwhelming majority of license protection schemes are utterly useless against anyone with even the slightest notion of how machine code works. A lot of developers recognize this problem and try to complicate and/or obfuscate the code to make it difficult to find and interpret, but it still boils down to the same thing; give or take a few instructions.

So what makes your license protection solution more robust and secure than the "conventional" approach most developers take?

Also, I think the whole anti-piracy thing has gone much too far. The fact is that people who aren't going to buy your game simply aren't going to buy your game. Maybe they simply don't have the money...they have to pay for their Ramen noodles and can't afford it. Or maybe they just don't want to pay. We can't force them to pay. So license/copy protection is NOT going to increase revenues. All it can do (in theory) is reduce the number of people who play your game by reducing the number of illegal copies. Honest people are going to buy the game if they can afford it and the game is worth the price being asked. I feel that the best "security" is to make the game/software difficult to pirate (it's impossible to make it impossible) or run without a license, price it properly and make it accessible to the public.

On a few occasions I've actually had to run pirated versions of software I PAID FOR because their security wouldn't even let me run the damn software with a valid license key I'd just purchased. That really ticks me off. Disservices like Steam from Valve Corporation are a prime example. Over-doing it on security is almost a way to ensure people are going to pirate your game because they will have trouble running it, have to crack it and then they'll share the crack/patch with friends (and then all over the web). Also, when you try to make an "unbeatable" security system you're going to attract people who want to crack your software just to prove a point. And they'll be sure to share their solution all over the internet as well. So I really feel like the best approach to security is a very modest approach... Just my two cents. :-)

Regards,

--ATC--
_______________________________________________________________________________
CEO & Lead Developer at ATCWARE™
"Project X-1"; a 100% managed, platform-agnostic game & simulation engine


Please visit our new forums and help us test them and break the ice!
___________________________________________________________________________________

#5 Servant of the Lord   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 18487

Posted 13 October 2012 - 08:17 AM

@ATC: In your opinion, you feel like Steam overdoes security?
I haven't had any problem DRM-wise with them (the constant patching can get annoying though).
It's perfectly fine to abbreviate my username to 'Servant' rather than copy+pasting it all the time.
All glory be to the Man at the right hand... On David's throne the King will reign, and the Government will rest upon His shoulders. All the earth will see the salvation of God.
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#6 Aphton   Members   -  Reputation: 263

Posted 13 October 2012 - 08:37 AM

One possible solution would be to move your game logic onto the server and use the client only as display/renderer..
Everything else is hackable.
If you e.g decide to use a server for authentification, one could #1 (as atc stated) change the authentification codeblock in your executable, #2 change the server data so that it connects to a custom server, .... use your imagination

Authentificating on a server would be a cake by using asymmetric encryption:
the key you have produces encrypted (login) data that can only be decrypted by the server and vice versa...
Hacking this is also possible but that should not be your concern since it would require setting up keyloggers and thats the user's fault.

#7 ATC   Members   -  Reputation: 551

Posted 13 October 2012 - 08:46 AM

@ATC: In your opinion, you feel like Steam overdoes security?
I haven't had any problem DRM-wise with them (the constant patching can get annoying though).


Definitely. I hate Steam with a passion. Steam is a complete and total deception; and if you ask me, an insult to gamers. It's passed off as a "service" for gamers to "help keep your games updated and all in one place". But Steam is actually a DRM platform about nothing other than control; controlling the use of the software you've paid for and which you should, by all rights, "own" (be able to personally use/consume as you please on your own machine). But not so with Steam. Steam owns your games, and they're just letting you play it in return for the money you've spent. At any time, technically, they could bar you from playing any (or all) of the games you've paid for. And if Valve Corporation were to ever go under, despite what they say, I seriously doubt you'd ever be able to play your games again. And don't tell me Valve can't go under... I remember people saying that about quite a few corporations and losing a lot of money... *cough* Bear-Sterns! *cough* :-) Some people have bought hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of games and content through Steam, so that could be a significant loss...

So Valve claims Steam is to help keep your games up-to-date and all in one place... but I say bologna... Any self-respecting software company provides a simple and easy way for users to update their software. And Windows, for instance, also has the Games Manager that makes it easy to keep your games updated and all in one place. You also have freedom in deciding when you play, if/when you update, where you install things, etc. Not so with Steam. Steam decides when your games are updated, and you cannot play until Steam is satisfied. Steam also decides when you play. If Steam has an error, can't connect to the internet or just wants to be a prick you may not be able to play your game for days, weeks, ...? It's happened to me too many times.

Every time I buy a game I look on the back to see if it says "Steam Activation Required". If it requires Steam I will most often put it right back on the shelf, unless it's a very good game like Skyrim or IL-2 Cliffs of Dover that I cannot live without...in which case I just have to suffer the Steam Disservice. And every time I'm forced to compromise and buy a Steam-based game I always use more swear words than a pirate crew on a three month voyage. 99% of the time I install the game just fine then Steam starts "updating" and it's not until 1-3 days later that I actually get to play the game. That always makes me furious with not only Valve but the developers of the game for choosing a Steam-only setup. On a regular basis I get kicked in the teeth and infuriated by Steam when I want to play the games I've paid for. It often fails to load, behaves erratically, gets hung up on updates or takes forever to complete an update, etc... Even when I keep it in offline mode it STILL finds ways to screw me over and make me mad. One thing it does sometimes in offline mode, when I try to launch a game or Steam itself, is say it had an error logging into my Steam account. WTF? I'm in offline mode! Things like this are just constantly driving me crazy... when I lived out in the country I thought these problems were the result of my lousy, slow satellite internet connection. But now I'm living in the city on a T-1 connection and it's almost just as bad...

Steam is also, imho, a piece of "junkware"... It's slow, bloated, over-engineered, unreliable, the list goes on and on... It also doesn't conform to standards for the operating systems it runs on (e.g., Windows, Mac..), even down to it's UI. It's so bad I feel like we should bring all the Steam programmers before the Council of Programming Elders and have them punished by dragonfire, haha! :-)

I literally beg all software developers to NOT make their games Steam-only. Some people like Steam, and that is fine. You can make your game available on Steam for those who want it. But offer a non-Steam version of the game, for the love of God lol...

Regards,

--ATC--
_______________________________________________________________________________
CEO & Lead Developer at ATCWARE™
"Project X-1"; a 100% managed, platform-agnostic game & simulation engine


Please visit our new forums and help us test them and break the ice!
___________________________________________________________________________________

#8 ATC   Members   -  Reputation: 551

Posted 13 October 2012 - 08:50 AM

One possible solution would be to move your game logic onto the server and use the client only as display/renderer..
Everything else is hackable.
If you e.g decide to use a server for authentification, one could #1 (as atc stated) change the authentification codeblock in your executable, #2 change the server data so that it connects to a custom server, .... use your imagination

Authentificating on a server would be a cake by using asymmetric encryption:
the key you have produces encrypted (login) data that can only be decrypted by the server and vice versa...
Hacking this is also possible but that should not be your concern since it would require setting up keyloggers and thats the user's fault.


That could work, but introduces a whole new host of problems. For one, people without internet connection cannot play your game. You're probably thinking, "Dude, everyone has internet these days!", and to some extent that is true. But not everyone. And we all travel... what if I'm on a road trip or long flight and want to play my games, but I can't because I don't have internet connection? Games that require internet connection drive me insane. Just recently, we lost our beloved T-1 connection during Hurricane Isaac. I couldn't play ANY of my favorite games because of Steam... it wouldn't even start in offline mode because I didn't have internet (go figure, makes no sense...). Requiring internet connection to play a game (unless it's a multiplayer-only game) is bad design...
_______________________________________________________________________________
CEO & Lead Developer at ATCWARE™
"Project X-1"; a 100% managed, platform-agnostic game & simulation engine


Please visit our new forums and help us test them and break the ice!
___________________________________________________________________________________

#9 mikro_sk   Members   -  Reputation: 120

Posted 13 October 2012 - 12:31 PM

OK guys, you want technical details, here they are. First I want to say that I 100% agree with ATC and his analysis of typical solutions as well as with samoth about RSA/AES. Because ... that's the point exactly! Let me explain.

Typical protection is exactly as ATC says... it's just kind of wrapper. You remove the wrapper, you've got a clean, spreadable copy which can be used by anyone. So what are current 'protectors' trying to achieve is to hide this check, this comparison, to obfuscate it as someone has mentioned. But as soon as you find it (it can take hours, weeks, even months, take a look at Starforce for example -- 424 days), the product is finished and in mercy of legal (voluntary) buyers. Apropo Starforce... there's then another element and that's the way how the protection abuses your system... you can read it on wikipedia, what exactly it does, don't know about you but for me it was really scary reading.

These were the starting points for us, the things we wanted to avoid. So... what we have come with?

0. Publisher uploads (clean, unprotected) files he wishes to protect (it might be one .dll, it might be two .exe's + 10 .dlls ...) to our server
- this is of course secure, agreement-based operation, nothing for public

1. Every publisher gets a loader which he executes as the last step in his installation process
- this loader does a hardware check of your computer (looking for unique elements -- serial numbers, IDs, names, ...)
- it sends this information, along with the entered serial key to our server
- as you can see, nothing confident is sent (you can mangle the hw info but then you'll receive a file for another computer registered on your serial key)
- our response will be a file (files) tight to your computer hardware, i.e. it will run on your computer but not on your friend's one
- again, as you see, nothing hackable in this process

2. Customer runs this executable(s), if hardware matches, ok, if not, an error appears

This is how it works from user point of view. Now typical Q&A:

Q: what if I change my HW?
A: you, as publisher, can choose what hardware you expect / allow your customers to change. Plus, how many reactivations do you allow. So in practice: I think my customers are gamers, so I allow them to change video card (video card wont be included in that hardware collect operation) plus since they are crazy upgraders so I allow them to change hdd/mother board/etc three times. That also implies, that you can give your serial number to your 3 friends (or family members or computers in your weekend house), if you are sure you'll never change your hardware, yes, it's ok, I as publisher agree with it. (it's up to me to change these numbers). Plus bear in mind the number of concurrent users are always in full control of the publisher -- thanks to the serial key + activation + database on our server.

Q: For every (re)activation I need an internet connection?
A: Yes, you do. You can alternatively sign up in an internet cafe or at your friend's place and download the file there (we'll provide web activation, too -- you bring your hw info file on an usb stick and we'll give you the protected files for your computer)

Q: What about updates?
A: You can upload the update in the same way as in the step 0, i.e. the next time user runs the activation process, new files will be downloaded. No trouble at all.

Q: OK, so how come it's uncrackable?
A: First, we do not claim it's unbreakable. We are only saying we can hold your game long enough on the game market to make some money back. We can debate how effective it is but bear in mind -- if today only 1 player of 20 pays for the product, improvement to 2 of 20 means double revenue!

Q: Cool cool, so how does it work then?
A: As I said, it's similar to cryptography. We inject your executable(s) on random places with thousands of 'crypto points'. There's huge technological background (ring0 stuff, drivers, protected memory etc) but in the nutshell it just asks about your HDD s/n, combines it with some data in the executable and generate some new code on some random place. This 'crypto points' are indistinguishable from regular code so the only way how to recognize them is to debug the app, check the result in memory, store it, patch it and.. move to another one. In a way it's similar to a series of ciphered blocks -- you can eventually crack them with brute force and combine into one but it takes time.

Q: TL;DR. What's the point?
A: The point is that if there's 6000 of these 'crypto points', you have to remove one after each another, you can't automatize it and you can't apply knowledge of one cracked product to another (because each copy is unique, each product has different code, i.e. this 'instruction mixing' happens always differently). So eventually, every game gets cracked but it will happen only after huge dedication from cracker's side and after the main sales are done (typical AAA game makes money in the first 3 weeks)

I'm sorry for such a long post I just want to be sure you'll get the idea. Feel free to ask, if you haven't understood something.

#10 Servant of the Lord   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 18487

Posted 13 October 2012 - 01:05 PM

If only the crypto points are scrambled: Couldn't a group of crackers each pool their executables, and then compare the executables to find the crypto points which could then be removed?
If the entire binary is scrambled: Wouldn't this effect the performance of carefully balanced tight inner loops? Is there a way to specify, for performance-sensitive areas of code, not to scramble that portion?

Does your method require an internet connection for ever playing session, or just for install/activation? If only for activation, how do you detect concurrent users?
It's perfectly fine to abbreviate my username to 'Servant' rather than copy+pasting it all the time.
All glory be to the Man at the right hand... On David's throne the King will reign, and the Government will rest upon His shoulders. All the earth will see the salvation of God.
Of Stranger Flames - [indie turn-based rpg set in a para-historical French colony] | Indie RPG development journal

[Fly with me on Twitter] [Google+] [My broken website]

[Need web hosting? I personally like A Small Orange]


#11 MrDaaark   Members   -  Reputation: 3551

Posted 13 October 2012 - 01:06 PM

so I allow them to


LOL... you'll ALLOW me to do something?

This is why I haven't played any commercial PC games in over 7 years now.

#12 mikro_sk   Members   -  Reputation: 120

Posted 13 October 2012 - 01:26 PM

Very good questions!

If only the crypto points are scrambled: Couldn't a group of crackers each pool their executables, and then compare the executables to find the crypto points which could then be removed?

Yes and no. They could do that (and they will do, I'm sure) but they soon realize the points are not same even for the same binary. I.e. not only the location (position) in the code but also the type / used instructions differ. And remember, they don't have the clean (unprotected) copy to compare to. It's very similar to having one message ciphered with two different keys. Can you tell from the differences what was the original? Even if it's only partially ciphered?

If the entire binary is scrambled: Wouldn't this effect the performance of carefully balanced tight inner loops? Is there a way to specify, for performance-sensitive areas of code, not to scramble that portion?

Yes it would and that's the reason why our tool makes possible to mark parts of the code (either by absolute offset ranges or by function names). So yes, there is a way.

Does your method require an internet connection for ever playing session, or just for install/activation? If only for activation, how do you detect concurrent users?

Just for installation/activation. I should've phrased it more carefully: we know how many users already activated it, for what hardware and with what serial number so publisher can see how many copies are 'around'.

#13 ATC   Members   -  Reputation: 551

Posted 13 October 2012 - 02:00 PM

Your system sounds pretty good. I can give it my blessings insofar as what I've heard you say about it. But don't think all (or any part of) it is "uncrackable". You might have made it hard enough that I don't feel like trying, but anything is breakable. When you engineer the "unbreakable" lock I will just get a screwdriver and take the door off the hinges... the mighty lock falling at my feet as I enter the bank vault. That's how hacking is done and how crackers think. :-)

However, I still take issue with the claim that this will "increase revenues"... I say again that people who refuse to pay for your software are not going to pay for your software. Thinking otherwise is being completely unrealistic and/or naive. No one thinks "Gee, I like that game. Let me go online and try to get a cracked version. If I can't then I'll go to Gamestop and buy it." Their thoughts either go one way or the other: "I'm going to Gamestop to buy that game," or "I'm going to crack that game and play for free." I'm sure there are a few people who might go and buy it after failing to crack it, but those people probably don't count for 1 in 1000 buyers. People who are determined enough not to pay that they will crack your game and use it illegally are just going to keep trying to crack it or just wait until someone else figures out how to do; which usually doesn't take very long. The only way you're going to increase revenues is by writing excellent games and software. That's what compels people to buy; not DRM or security.

"Anti-cracking" measures and security should be about keeping things fair. It's not fair to paying customers if everyone and his uncle gets to play for free. And that's really, imho, the only reason to have any DRM/security measures in your game. The way to discourage people from cracking your software is by pricing it fairly, offering good customer service, treating your customers with respect and making your games accessible to the public.

Regards,

--ATC--

P.S. -- Your security scheme sounds very familiar. It sounds a lot like the security system built into GROME (my favorite terrain/world editing tool) from Quad Software. I notice your company is called "Quadisys" which sounds similar to "Quad"... Are you guys an offshoot of Quad or related in any way? If so, please send Adrian my regards. He has helped me greatly over the years! ;-)

Edited by ATC, 13 October 2012 - 02:05 PM.

_______________________________________________________________________________
CEO & Lead Developer at ATCWARE™
"Project X-1"; a 100% managed, platform-agnostic game & simulation engine


Please visit our new forums and help us test them and break the ice!
___________________________________________________________________________________

#14 mikro_sk   Members   -  Reputation: 120

Posted 13 October 2012 - 02:40 PM

Hi ATC,

Your system sounds pretty good. I can give it my blessings insofar as what I've heard you say about it. But don't think all (or any part of) it is "uncrackable". You might have made it hard enough that I don't feel like trying, but anything is breakable. When you engineer the "unbreakable" lock I will just get a screwdriver and take the door off the hinges... the mighty lock falling at my feet as I enter the bank vault. That's how hacking is done and how crackers think. :-)

That's the reason why I'm saying: A: First, we do not claim it's unbreakable. We are only saying we can hold your game long enough on the game market to make some money back. In other words: you'll crack us, we work on it with that in mind, but it will take you a time.

However, I still take issue with the claim that this will "increase revenues"... I say again that people who refuse to pay for your software are not going to pay for your software.

You know, I'm not a marketing advisor. Nor a sales person. We just offer a technology which shoots down the 95% piracy rate. If it helps your business or not, we can't tell, you know who your customer are. The decision is up to you, of course.

wait until someone else figures out how to do; which usually doesn't take very long. The only way you're going to increase revenues is by writing excellent games and software. That's what compels people to buy; not DRM or security.

I agree that the only way you're going to increase revenues is by writing excellent games and software but imagine these excellent games and software get cracked the day they are released.

"Anti-cracking" measures and security should be about keeping things fair. It's not fair to paying customers if everyone and his uncle gets to play for free. And that's really, imho, the only reason to have any DRM/security measures in your game. The way to discourage people from cracking your software is by pricing it fairly, offering good customer service, treating your customers with respect and making your games accessible to the public.

Sure, in an ideal world. I don't know if you're a game developer or not but don't you feel pissed off if you are working on a game/app for months, eating just fast food all the time to save money, then offer your product for $2 with cool support and features and some asshole makes a crack and spread it for free? Are you really satisfied only with the feeling that people use it? For big companies it is the same -- they have 200+ people working on a title, put 3 years of development into it and the next day after release a crack is out there, making their work worthless.

P.S. -- Your security scheme sounds very familiar. It sounds a lot like the security system built into GROME (my favorite terrain/world editing tool) from Quad Software. I notice your company is called "Quadisys" which sounds similar to "Quad"... Are you guys an offshoot of Quad or related in any way? If so, please send Adrian my regards. He has helped me greatly over the years! ;-)

Wow, this must be a huge coincidence, but we'll write them for sure! Posted Image

I only repeat our offer here: if you think a good anti-piracy solution with as little hassle as possible can help you boost your sales, give us a call. If not, well... we can't really force you to change your mind, it's up to you. We offer it 100% for free, servers are paid by us, customers support ditto. We really need a 'real' customer to break into the game world.

Edited by mikro_sk, 13 October 2012 - 02:46 PM.


#15 ATC   Members   -  Reputation: 551

Posted 14 October 2012 - 10:27 AM

@ mikro_sk:

I'm sorry if it came off like I was disparaging your product/services. I did not intend it that way, and I know you weren't claiming your security is "unbreakable". I was just talking about the issue of piracy and security in general. I think the anti-piracy and DRM effort of the software industry (especially the giants) has gone too far. Like I said though, your product sounds very clever and, from what I've heard, I would trust it. It sounds like a reasonable level of security for a broad range of games and other software.

Yes, it does piss you off to see your work pirated. And, possibly worse, it pisses off paying customers that they paid for the product and lots of other people are using it for free. That's the main reason I concern myself with licensing/security, for the sake of fairness to my team and my customers. I know that it's not going to make me richer to stop game/software pirates (the term "pirates" makes them sound too cool, imho lol) but I do it for the people who worked so hard on the software and the people who spent their money to buy it. That's reason enough to use a product like yours. I may even consider it in the future (in fact, I'll save your contact info).

I would suggest, however, businessman to businessman, not to put forth the claim that using your security will increase revenues. Your clients could be sorely disappointed when they see a decreased piracy rate but revenues remain at or near the same level. Some might even blame you, even though that's not your fault. I'm not sure about the legal implications of this but I'd be afraid someone might sue me for "false advertising" or deceptive marketing; promising someone that they'll make more money by using your product could be a legal minefield. I'm in the investment finance business and I can get into trouble if I promise a client an X% return in Y-time and fail to deliver; so we're not allowed to make such promises. I'm not sure how that (legally) applies to you but it just scares me. That's why I made an issue of it. :-)

Regards,

--ATC--

P.S. :: Yes, I am a game & software developer.
_______________________________________________________________________________
CEO & Lead Developer at ATCWARE™
"Project X-1"; a 100% managed, platform-agnostic game & simulation engine


Please visit our new forums and help us test them and break the ice!
___________________________________________________________________________________

#16 mikro_sk   Members   -  Reputation: 120

Posted 14 October 2012 - 12:52 PM

That's very interesting point with the legal implications, ATC. We'll keep that in mind. And of course, you're cordially welcome to use our technology even in the future!




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