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Nintendo Wii hack opens door to homebrew games

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Security researchers have hacked into a Nintendo Wii game console to run their own code in a move that makes it far easier to develop homebrew games for the popular gaming device.

Up to now developers have only been able to write homebrew games for the Gamecube, not the Wii. That meant these homebrew games could be run on a Wii console (because of backward compatibility) but failed to provide Wii hardware support (so no use of the motion-sensitive Wii remote control) and only limited access to system resources.

During a presentation at the 24th Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin last week, hackers Michael Steil and Felix Domke demonstrated their own code running on the console and making use of its system resources. The duo were able to pull off the hack after they extracted the keys for signing Wii code, a feat that would not have been possible if Nintendo had used an encrypted drive.

The brief demo took place at the end of a longer presentation on Deconstructing Xbox 360 Security during the annual hacker conference. Most of the presentation talked about the security architecture of the XBox 360 and the possibility of running Linux on the device but it was the Wii hack that really caught the attention.

The hack advances the possibility of running homebrew code with access to full system resources on the device, not just programs that Nintendo has sanctioned. Such games might be developed to run from a DVD drive, at least in theory. No such games are available as yet and Nintendo may respond by attempting to revoke compromised encryption keys. However history shows such countermeasures are likely to ultimately prove futile. ®

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