Sony sues PlayStation 3 'hackers'
No dongle, no problem
Updated Sony has set the lawyers on hackers who figured out a way to run unsigned code on PlayStation 3 consoles without the use of a dongle.
The hack, made possible by the discovery of the private key Sony used to sign its software, was demonstrated by a group called fail0verflow at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin late last month.
Sloppy cryptography by Sony meant anyone might be able to bypass copyright controls and sign their own code so that it ran on the console.
fail0verflow only published a video demonstration. It withheld the details of Sony's encryption key. The group has issued a statement explaining that it was motivated solely by the desire to restore the ability to run Linux or other alternative operating systems on the console. It condemned video game piracy.
Another hacker, George Hotz (AKA geohot), released modified firmware based on Sony's formerly secret key, allowing enthusiasts to run home-brewed software on the console. Hotz, the first hacker to successfully jailbreak the iPhone, pulled off the hack using a combination of hardware and software hacks, as explained in our earlier story here.
Although the initial application of the hack was to allow enthusiasts to run Linux on consoles, the same technique might also be applied to allow pirated games to run on the console, hence Sony's decision to call in its lawyers. Sony accuses both fail0verflow and geohot of copyright infringement and computer fraud.
The consumer electronics giant is seeking a restraining order against the publication of the code, which it claims has already facilitated copyright control circumvention and piracy.
Hotz1, 21, told the BBC that Sony's legal offensive was on a hiding to nothing. "I have spoken with legal counsel and I feel comfortable that Sony's action against me doesn't have any basis," he said.
fail0verflow's website has been stripped down overnight to feature only a brief message saying "Sony sued us" alongside a statement explaining its position.
"We have never condoned, supported, approved of or encouraged videogame piracy," it said. "We have not published any encryption or signing keys. We have not published any Sony code, or code derived from Sony's code."
The group also published court documents filed against it by Sony.
Hotz likewise published Sony's lawsuit on his site, which appears to be struggling to cope with interest and has become very slow to load.
As well filing the lawsuit, Sony may attempt to reestablish control of the situation by updating PS3 console software over the net.
GFI Security researcher Chris Boyd. an experienced gamer, said that simply pushing an update would not resolve the underlying problem, although it might treat its symptoms.
"Updating could be a nightmare - in theory, they could blacklist anything using current keys and whitelist all executable content with new keys but there's no guarantee the same thing won't happen again."
The PlayStation 3 is the last video game console to be hacked. Sony can take some comfort from this point, as well as noting that previous hacks against other consoles have not added up to an increase in video-game piracy, Boyd added.
"As far as piracy goes, Sony could ask game developers not to compress data on the blu-rays, which could deter pirates who don't want to download 50GB files every time they want to grab a game. Whilst I think current generation consoles are nearing their natural lifespan anyway, Sony will be encouraged by the fact that other consoles were hacked much earlier and still enjoy very healthy sales all round." ®
1Hotz (geohot) is not a member of Fail0verflow, as incorrectly reported in the initial version of this story.
And yet again...
... is the crushing pointlessness of DRM highlighted for all to see.
"Piracy BAD", yes maybe but you don't stop it by annoying your paying customers rather than the people you're trying to stop. Any more than you stop a charging elephant with a sheet of cling film.
Breath in, breath out, now calm down
Let's step through this nice and slowly ok.
The root key is held on a non flashable hardware chip in the console. To revoke the key means replacing the hardware.
If they push the firmware onto some other chip in the console, they need to sign the code with the key, thats the key that has been compromised btw.
You then go and do your own thing, and guess what, the console accepts your input as legitimate as it's signed with the key that Sony cannot revoke, cause it's burnt into the ROM.
As for the seething about 12 year old spotty coders, I assume you haven't actually spent any time validating the credentials of the guys who performed the analysis?
doncha just luv 'em?
The same company who put spyware in their CDs to stop people copying them,
want to punish people who, for free and for fun,
want to multiply the potential of hardware they paid for and now own
I might get a PS3 so I can do this
"i can see how about 0.0001% of people who own a ps3 might be interested in linux on it but we all know the vast majority of hacking is purely to run copyritten games, meaning loss of income for sony. in the end we will all end up paying for that."
A) 0.0001% or otherwise is irrelevant. They're Sony's customers.
B) The vast majority of hacking may be to run pirated games. I don't believe it is, but that's irrelevant. The most important hacking always comes from homebrew and/or Linux fans. They break the system to do what they want -- the warez junkies come in as a second phase, picking up what the homebrewers did and extending it. It's always a minor step, just as GeoHot took fail0verflow's hack and modified it to do more than originally intended.
Many people saw the original OtherOS option as a very shrewd move by Sony -- they gave the homebrewers and the Linux crowd an "easy in", which meant they had no reason to break open the OS or firmware.
And it worked pretty well -- without the assistance of the homebrew crowd, the dedicated pirates were on their own and didn't get very far.
With OtherOS still in place, the fail0verflow guys would never have gone to the effort of breaking the encryption.
How do you copyright an encryption key?
Perhaps Sony could publish it in the public domain so we can all check that the one's we use don't infringe their copyright.