PlayStation 3 'hacked' by hardware crackers

By Jonathan Fildes
Technology reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Image caption,
Gamers have given a mixed response to the reports

A group of hardware hackers claim they are about to release the first product to allow gamers to play homemade and pirated games on the PlayStation 3.

The PS3 is the only games console that has not been hacked, despite being on the market for more than three years.

Now a group called PSJailbreak says it will release a USB dongle containing software that allows users to save games to the console's hard drive.

Sony, the maker of the PS3, declined to comment.

PSJailbreak has also not responded to interview requests by BBC News.

However, a distributor for the dongle said that he had tested it and would start selling the device "in the next two weeks".

"We are in contact with a person in Malaysia but don't know where the manufacturer is," the spokesperson for Fox-Chip told the BBC.

Mixed response

According to videos of the hack posted online by an Australian distributor, a user merely has to insert the USB stick into the console to make it work.

The videos show a person navigating to a "backup manager" on the PS3, which purports to show a list of games saved to the console's hard drive.

The narrator flicks through the list before loading one of the games.

Sceptics have suggested the videos are a hoax or that they show the hack running on a so-called "debug PS3" or "dev unit", used by developers to test code for the machine.

Image caption,
Nintendo has won various rulings against modchip distributors

However, a spokesperson for Fox-Chip, another distributor based in France, denied this was the case.

"It works on all PlayStation 3s," he told BBC News. "We tested it yesterday."

A spokesperson for Console Pro, another distributor based in the Netherlands, told BBC News the "dongle converts a retail unit into a dev unit".

"Dev mode means it will run any - even unsigned - code. Using a simple backup maker or player software, you can play backed-up [saved] games without the actual disc being in the PS3."

The spokesperson for Fox-Chip said the hack was a "good thing" as it would give gamers more functionality, including the ability to run their own games, called homebrews.

"There was previously no homebrew, because it was impossible to execute [on the console] - now some people can do it," he said.

He denied that the product would just be used to pirate games and said, in the long run, its release would be good for Sony.

"Sony should sell a lot of consoles because of this," he said.

But Rik Ferguson of security firm Trend Micro warned that the hack could cause problems.

"It does disable some key security features built into the PS3 - like the running of unsigned code - and we've seen with the iPhone that this makes your device less secure."

The iPhone has been cracked several times and allows owners to run non-Apple approved applications.

Gamers have met the news of PSJailbreak with a mixed response, with some welcoming the possibility of developing their own games for the popular console.

However, many posting on PS3 forums said that the product would promote piracy and could undermine the games industry.

Pre-emptive strike

The legality of products such as this - commonly called modchips - differs by country.

The Fox-chip spokesperson said that distributing them was legal in France.

However, in other countries, console manufactures have successfully taken distributors to court.

A recent High Court ruling in the UK said that "game copiers" were illegal to import, advertise and sell.

The case had been brought by Nintendo, maker of the Wii and DS handheld console.

The defendants had argued that they allow gamers to play home-made games.

PSJailbreak is not the first time that there have been claims that the popular PS3, which has sold almost 40 million units, has been hacked.

Earlier this year, a US hacker who gained notoriety for unlocking Apple's iPhone as a teenager, George Hotz, claimed to have cracked the console.

Following his initial announcement, Sony released an update for the console disabling a function that allowed gamers to install a version of Linux on their machines, thought to have been exploited by Mr Hotz.

Many saw it as a pre-emptive strike to guard against games piracy.

Mr Hotz has never released the exploit and has said publicly that he has given up his work on the console.

The spokesperson for Console Pro said he expected a similarly swift response to the latest exploit:

"They will come with a firmware update in some days blocking the use of the dongle," he said.

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