• The Gamer's Quagmire #14 - Pass the PS3 Popcorn, Please

    Some of the best entertainment that exists today is watching someone fight an unwinnable war. Let me save you the trouble of wondering what that refers to. Instead of talking about a real war, I speak of the currently ridiculous back and forth between Sony and the hacking community on the PS3. Sure, Sony is acting like a giant idiotic bully. Here comes the unpopular part.

    The hacker community is acting ridiculous too.

    I never am able to figure out why so many millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours are spent trying to stop the inevitable. Has there ever been a case of a company beating the tidal wave of hackers? Conversely, has there ever been a huge company unwilling to defend one of its major investments? If there was a perfect security system out there then security updates would be a thing of the past. Let's either agree on this or agree that you have a lot of reading to do.

    The now departed Install Other OS featureThis initial battle on the PS3 began with the 'Install other OS' option on the PS3. The short version is that someone started working on exploits into trying to crack the hypervisor on the console using this very feature. In case you do not know, the hypervisor is the primary security controller for the console. Getting into there, in effect, is breaking into the primary command center. After Sony caught wind of the hack they became concerned. What would they do in an attempt to stop such a malevolent act? They found their first lunatic they could consult and decided to remove the install OS option and ... well, it was game on.

    That might have been a poor choice of words. Hmmm.

    Reading about everything that has happened since then has done a number of things (in addition to giving me a throbbing headache). Attempting to rationalize vitriol against Sony is never that hard to do, but in this case reading about this rationalization has been particularly amusing. Whatever you believe for why Sony included this now defunct feature, I fail to understand why removing this feature became the impetus for the onslaught on the console. Am I really supposed to believe that there was no reason to hack the system until this magical feature was removed? Nobody wanted to play with the guts of the console? Nobody wanted access to the whole system before 2010? REALLY? Sony isn't slinging the only BS methinks.

    The hackers, as you should expect, have been successful even so far as figuring out a way to digitally sign anything they desire to run on the console. Once the entire community got into an uproar the attack was full on. Enabling a better homebrew scene is one of the laudable goals of this overall endeavor. Funny images from Revenge of the Nerds aside, Sony fire the shot that started the war. Not soon after their console's gaping security hole was fully exposed for the world to see. Thus proving, once again, that there is always a way to break past electronic security.Lambda Lambda Lambda from Revenge of the Nerds

    The central issue, the way I see it, is about what you can do with the console after you buy it. The companies that produce these consoles want you to use the software they give you to run their machine. While many consumers only ever wish to use it as prescribed this there will always be people that want complete access to the system to do as they wish. Both are right in their beliefs... and both are wrong.

    Ever since consoles started coming with hard drives, a BIOS, and everything else that basically makes it a miniature PC they were providing people a cheap alternative to buying a PC. Putting a free operating system on the device and getting drivers to interface with everything inside the box is a very popular goal. What amazes me is that Sony, like other technical companies, believes they can stop people from doing this. Those breaking down the barriers think they should be able to do this while still being able to log into the PSN and play games online. And here I thought greed was bad?

    And yes, I know, Sony is evil for trying to stop you. Now let's all turn a blind eye to Apple for constantly patching their mobile devices to stop the jailbreaking.

    PS3Do not get me wrong here - I do not take Sony's side on this. I am firmly on the sideline of this mess being entertained. Their trying to lock down their system after the security hole was discovered is expected. How they plan on keeping off PSN when their main key is now out in the wild will be fun for all to see. What boggles my mind is what they think the end game is with their legal actions. Without turning this piece into a diatribe on the legal system or our counter-suit culture, I need to make the point that suing people for hacking a system that they own is nothing more than insane. Maybe they have something with distributing the code. I shall leave that quibble for the professionals. What I want to know is how far will they go? What do they wish to accomplish now that the cat is out of the bag?

    Think about how far back console hacking goes. Everyone's favorite failed console, the Dreamcast, suffered from heavy piracy. The PlayStation 2 had a hard drive opened the back door nice and wide for the piracy truck to drive on through. Pretty much every console since has had an issue since. Nintendo even tried to stem the tide with their Gamecube and the smaller discs. We all saw how well that went.

    Once consoles started having more standard operating systems, BIOS', expansion slots, and anything else that slowly turned them into a PC the game was basically over. It is also true that the Internet has been a boon to those who wish to manipulate the boards of their consoles to do their bidding. Yeah, okay, the Internet makes pirating easier. I cracked the case wide open for you.

    You know - like a hacker.

    Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all have an interesting time ahead of them. They all will do anything they can to keep people from taking over their consoles. They want to keep hackers out. The thing these executives miss is that just like music, movies, books, or any other form of digital media is going to have a piracy issue - big or small. Figuring out where the appropriate place to draw the line still appears to be a mystery. Burning wads of cash, man hours, and calories trying to take the hard line of keeping everybody out and suing those that figure out how to break in appears to be the current modus operandi.

    How about this as a start - we'll do whatever we want with these systems (we bought them) and we'll forfeit the right to have access to your online network and marketplace. The network is your service. The hardware is ours. Having one's cake and eating it too - both sides are guilty. Once we admit this fact to ourselves I believe there will be a lot less angst floating around and we can get back to our original contract - they'll make the games and we'll play them.
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Fanatix's Avatar
      Fanatix -
      So...at the end of the day you are advocating that once you buy the system you should be able to modify it to your will, at the expense of Sony's online service.

      I'll get straight to the point, that Sony would never EVER allow that. Because the first thing that Hackers will do is modify the system so that it can run pirated games, costing Sony and the Game Developers thousands (possibly millions) of dollars. That's money the companies need to stay profitable. Money people need to keep them in Jobs. Money stores need to keep them open.

      Obviously some will choose to not pirate the system so they can still use PSN. But the more likely scenario is that hackers will develop their own network. This pretty much happened on the original Xbox where people hacked it so you didn't need Xbox Live but instead could play worldwide over the internet with people on both Xbox and PC. It may be the same for the 360 but I haven't been around hackers much since college.

      Hackers are without a doubt Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and most companies enemies. And they should be allowed to protect their products. The fact that the Hacker community is bitching just means that the companies are doing a better job than the hackers are.
    1. Craig Reade's Avatar
      Craig Reade -
      I like the idea Jamison's put forward, but I don't think he's under any allusion that Sony would allow it. Just a nice what-if. I don't think anyone is suggesting that they not be allowed to "protect" their systems, but they do go a little overboard in that protection sometimes.

      There will always be a "pirate" market, but 99% of console users don't fall into that category.

      I have to admit - it is more than frustrating to pay for a piece of hardware with certain capabilities, only to have those capabilities denied by the manufacturer. If you buy something, you should be allowed to do with it what you want.
    1. Jamison DeLorenzo's Avatar
      Jamison DeLorenzo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Craig Reade View Post
      I have to admit - it is more than frustrating to pay for a piece of hardware with certain capabilities, only to have those capabilities denied by the manufacturer. If you buy something, you should be allowed to do with it what you want.
      Taking away that 'Install Other OS' option was a biggie for people, although I'm willing to bet that most people who voice frustration over this move are arguing solely on principle. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all should constantly be upgrading their firmware so their system and services remain operating the way they want them to. They should defend their box as best they can. Suing people for playing with hardware they purchase is way beyond the line, however.

      Eventually someone will create a way to jailbreak the PS3 (just like any mobile device), install their own OS on top and still play games that they pay for. This is inevitable. At the point you really are breaking your contract with Sony.

      This is just like opening your PC from a vendor and installing some new parts. You're welcome to do it, but you can't expect the manufacturer to be responsible for whatever happens inside the magic box after you've messed around in there. I really don't know how that policy doesn't make the most sense here.