A Hacked PS3 Anyone? Bueller?

Take any piece of modern hardware and guaranteed its locked down in one way or another to make sure it’s not used in a way that the vendor didn’t intend, expect or desire. Take Apple for example, they strictly control what can and can’t be run on their entire range of hardware products to make sure that their brand name isn’t tarnished (and they fight fervently when there’s even the slight hint that it might). Such restrictions give rise to the hacker community dedicated to unlocking the full potential of the hardware. To them it’s not so much the potential of having unrestricted access, more it is about the challenge that is presented with these restrictions and finding that loophole that lets them circumvent it.

To date nearly every major console and handled game device had been hacked into in at least some form. A couple days ago however the king of the unhackable hill, the Playstation 3, has apparently fallen from its perch:

I have read/write access to the entire system memory, and HV level access to the processor. In other words, I have hacked the PS3. The rest is just software. And reversing. I have a lot of reversing ahead of me, as I now have dumps of LV0 and LV1. I’ve also dumped the NAND without removing it or a modchip.

3 years, 2 months, 11 days…thats a pretty secure system

Took 5 weeks, 3 in Boston, 2 here, very simple hardware cleverly applied, and some not so simple software.

As noted in the quote above its been quite a long time coming for such a hack to appear. So long in fact that I doubted that it was legitimate considering that the site itself is extremely new (well under a month) and was proclaiming something that had been tried before and failed spectacularly. My mind was changed when I checked out who the hacker was, George Hotz, who’s claim to fame before his PS3 shenanigans was unlocking the iPhone. So his street cred checks out.

I put off posting about this for a couple days so I could glean a little bit more info about the whole thing before posting about it. The hack itself doesn’t appear to be too complicated however what is going to be complicated is making anything of it. Whilst the original “phat” PS3s were quite capable of running Linux (albeit quite horribly, I don’t even bother with my install anymore) many of the higher level functions, like access to the full set of GPU instructions and the SPEs, was disabled. This meant that anything running on the PS3 that wasn’t sanctioned by Sony was inherently crippled. Getting access to these extra bits of functionality would make allow people to create games without forking over for Sony’s developer kit ($10,000 FYI). You can see why they tried so hard to keep people from doing such a thing.

There’s also the darker side to this hack appearing: piracy. Sure there are legitimate reasons for blowing open access to a console like this but for the most part any successful cracking of a game console has ultimately lead to a rampant piracy scene. Whilst it would be difficult to judge the actual financial damage to Sony and the publishers who have games on the PS3 it would still be there, and you can bet your bottom dollar that it would be cited as a reason for any bad financial quarters. GeoHot’s hack is a far cry from this however, so there’s still a long time before any real piracy scene appears for the PS3.

Still I can’t help but wonder, will anyone really bother? A typical game on the PS3 can be anywhere from 10GB to 25GB something which, especially in Australia, would be rather hard to swallow when your download cap is a mere 75GB such as mine. Additionally with many games appearing cross platform you’re really only going to be pirating the exclusives and if you bought a PS3 its not really worth your trouble just to pirate those. Would you really spend the cash for a blu-ray burner, discs and bandwidth in order to play a few games a year? I’m guessing not.

So whilst I was initially excited at the prospect of some intrepid hacker finally cracking the PS3 code it wore off pretty quickly. With my secret addiction to collector’s editions that have things you can’t pirate still running rampant I have no inclination to pirate games on my PS3, nor do I have a need for yet another computer in my house (there’s 5 in the same room as the PS3, I’ll be damned if I need the PS3 to do their jobs). With this hack taking so long to come out I can’t help but feel that the majority of PS3 owners are in the same boat, happily residing themselves to never thinking about home brew or piracy on the PS3.

Still I’ve been wrong before so I’ll be watching the developments pretty closely. It certaintly has made for interesting reading at the very least 🙂

4 Comments

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  1. I must admit I never knew that the PS3 still hadn’t been hacked. Even owning all 3 current gen consoles, I don’t actually have any machine that has been modded so all the games I have are originals anyway.

    I think these days with the great US dollar PS3 games can be ordered online at almost half retail (read EB) price anyway, and everyone has the inevitable sales.

    If there is a game I really want i’ll spend the money to get it, but otherwise I usually just hang out until the price drops.

    These days I have too many games and too little time to play them in anyway! haha. Plus the fact that Bluray burners are hideously expensive as well as blank media ~$12-20 each, 3 bad writes and there’s a whole game purchase..

  2. Exactly, the barrier to entry is still high enough (arguably because of the lack of a pirate scene, who else uses writable blu-rays?) that even if you do crack the PS3 wide open the value in doing so is relatively small. Something like the PSP which becomes a portable powerhouse of functionality once its hacked has infinitely more value than what amounts to a PC that won’t be able to run 99% of the software out there.

  3. If/when a bootloader comes out to play pirated games you won’t need to burn brd’s. It will be a HDD/USB loader. People will pirate if the cost makes sense. I have 125gig for $100 a month. So I could possibly download 5 games for the price of one. While a bit more effort than other attend the economics are still in the favour of piracy.

  4. I didn’t think of that, although the hack seems more centered around the homebrew scene currently more than it does for pirating games. Jumping the hypervisor restrictions is one thing, but being able to load up games is another (as it seems all his work is done through the OtherOS mode, which can’t play PS3 games anyway). Still I’m sure they’ll be able to hook into the firmware eventually and make it so games can be loaded off a hard drive. That’s one advantage I would go after. Loading the game from a 500GB SATA drive would be a lot better than the blu-rays.

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