Sony Released Its Playstation Classic Console In A Way That Makes It Eminently Hackable

from the wait-sony? dept

Gamers of a certain age will be very familiar with the insanity from roughly 2010 that was Sony's reaction to having its Playstation 3 console hacked to return functionality that Sony initially advertised and then rescinded via a firmware update. While PS3 owners cheered on the hack, as many of them loved the function that Sony took away, Sony instead began a full on legal war with the Geohot, the hobbyist who gave users what they wanted. The whole thing was a complete mess that made Sony look awful and ultimately resulted in the Playstation 4 of course not having the function that users wanted, and the console being much, much more locked down at release.

I'm going to take a moment again to remind you that this all occurred only roughly 8 years ago. Why? Well, because Sony recently released its Playstation Classic retro console... and apparently made it very, very easy to hack.

The PlayStation Classic was a great idea that was disappointingly executed. Not surprisingly, hackers have been hard at work trying to crack the novelty console as they’ve done already with Nintendo’s NES Classicand SNES Classic.

The job’s been made easier, the hackers claim, thanks to Sony reportedly housing the key to decoding the PlayStation Classic’s firmware on the device itself, rather than utilizing a private key held by Sony. The underlying code that runs on game console is encrypted to prevent people from tampering with it, but in this case the tools to unlock and start changing how the console operates were available to anyone who dug through the code by copying it onto a PC. As first reported by Ars Technica, console hacker yifanlu pointed it out on Twitter late last week in-between streaming his attempts to break open the console’s digital architecture on Twitch. So far they’ve been able to play unincluded PS1 games like Spyro using a thumb drive and are currently working on getting other emulators working on it as well.

Here again we see hackers enabling what gamers wanted out of their Playstation Classic devices, but which Sony failed to provide. The biggest disappointment in the Playstation Classic has been the short game library. By screwing around with the console, tinkerers can enable playing many, many more games. And, given that this is Sony we're talking about that just went through all of this with the PS3, you have to wonder just how much of this was done on purpose, and how much is Sony not having things buttoned up on their end.

“There really isn’t any security on the device at all,” yifanlu told Kotaku in an email. “Sony managed to accidentally include their firmware update private keys on every console.”

If that's true, you have to wonder if another round of stupid of the kind we saw with the PS3 is about to happen. Sony is notoriously protective of its hardware, often leading it down a litigious path. But if the company were to once again attack tinkerers and deprive users of useful features for its product, and did so after so willfully ignoring securing its consoles from this type of thing, that would nearly smack of a honeypot rather than Sony having any true gripe.


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  • identicon
    PS1Player, 14 Dec 2018 @ 5:30pm

    Actually the biggest issue for many was the poor setup of the emulation software by Sony's subcontractor. It probably saved Sony from a sales disaster when it was discovered you could plug in a keyboard and adjust the emulation settings to make the PAL games work properly.

    Adding games a a big bonus though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Unanimous Cow Herd, 14 Dec 2018 @ 5:36pm

    Translation

    Gamers of a certain age = Geezer Nerds

    -card carrying member

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    keithzg (profile), 14 Dec 2018 @ 6:35pm

    Ah yes, the wonderful irony of the PS3 hack

    The 360 was hacked so that people could (with some effort) run arbitrary code on the hardware long before the PS3 was. I'm sure someone would have hacked the PS3 eventually, but it's very notable to me that the PS3 went a long while being safe from things like people playing pirated games on it, and then barely a breath after they took away the ability of folks to run Linux on it people finally got around to hacking it!

    And the result was even better than before, since now more of the hardware was available to Linux, but of course it was also worse for Sony since in the process of hacking the PS3 to be able to still run Linux on it, it opened up a big enough crack for people to also play pirated games on it. Which at very least wouldn't have happened as early as it did if Sony hadn't rescinded the OtherOS functionality.

    Delicious, delicious karma.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2018 @ 8:56am

    I don't see the problem of this

    - Emulators are already available (even better versions than Sony uses)
    - ROMs are available as well (and most likely the only illegal part anyway)
    - For hardware every old PC / Laptop or small PC /Rasperry Pi etc. is enough
    --> Everybody that wants to play PS1 games can have it already cheaper and easier.

    There really isn't any point at all in making it hacker proof. Just don't enable too much from the get go so that nobody can say it's somehow implied to be legal. Don't wanna give away too much legal control (real control was lost long ago). Then why should Sony care if it's hacked as long as the device was bought they made some bucks from real old assets.

    But then again: This would imply that Sony really had rational thoughts about this and didn't simply screw up / do a half assed job. My money is kind of both: They rushed it though after the Nintendo success and nobody anywhere cared too much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Cowherd, 16 Dec 2018 @ 7:03am

    This actually made the console seem worth buying to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 17 Dec 2018 @ 9:17am

      Re:

      I can see how it might be worth it if you want two original-style PS1 controllers. (They have their advantages. My right hand cramps something fierce if I try to play a Mega Man X game with a DualShock; I'm pretty sure that's why the later games added an auto-charge.) But if all you want is a device that will plug into your TV and run arbitrary PS1 games on a PCSX-derived emulator, there are cheaper, easier, more versatile solutions.

      I think people who say "just get a Raspberry Pi!" in response to threads about mini-consoles are off the mark. On the other hand, if they're saying "just get a Raspberry Pi!" in response to someone who wants to buy a mini-console so they can hack it and run a different set of games on it, they've got a point.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 17 Dec 2018 @ 11:29am

        Re: Re:

        "But if all you want is a device that will plug into your TV and run arbitrary PS1 games on a PCSX-derived emulator, there are cheaper, easier, more versatile solutions."

        But, no cheaper *legal* alternatives. Part of the cost is the licence for the game, and some people would rather be honest, even if part of their purchase intent is to play additional games that are not being offered legally.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Thad (profile), 17 Dec 2018 @ 12:09pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I think you misunderstood my post.

          I understand why someone would want to buy a PS Classic to play old PlayStation games legally.

          However, we're talking about buying a PS Classic with the intention of modifying its software to play games that aren't included on it. That, in and of itself, is probably illegal (anti-circumvention clause), and if it isn't, then acquiring games and playing them on an emulator on the PS Classic is no more or less legal than acquiring them and playing them on an emulator on any other hardware (ie, legal if you own the game and make a copy without violating the anti-circumvention clause, illegal otherwise).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 17 Dec 2018 @ 1:07pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Yes, but my point is, you have 2 options here:

            1 - Buy a different machine with the intention of playing every game in circumvention of copyright restrictions

            2 - Buy a PS Classic with the intention of playing every game legally where that's possible, and modifying it only for the games that are not available legally.

            The point is, some people will indeed pay extra for the legally available titles just because that's the legal route but still take the illegal options to access the titles where that's not an option.

            "(ie, legal if you own the game and make a copy without violating the anti-circumvention clause, illegal otherwise)"

            That's where the DMCA makes things complicated, as you have to violate it even where you would otherwise be making a legal copy. That's why the whole DeCSS case was so problematic. Even when you're providing the tools only to use DVDs in a legal manner (in that case playing the discs you own on Linux), the mere presence of DRM makes that legal use inaccessible without someone breaking the DMCA. It's why there's such a mess surrounding things like torrents and making exceptions for accessibility to the disabled - the tools are demonised and outlawed even when a person only wishes to use them for otherwise perfectly legal purposes.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Thad (profile), 17 Dec 2018 @ 1:21pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Right, but PS1 discs aren't encrypted. Simply copying a disc, byte-for-byte, does not circumvent an anti-copying measure. It won't copy the inner sectors on the disc, but those are only necessary for playing on (unmodified) authentic PlayStation hardware, not for playing in an emulator.

              Now, you could argue that emulators that will play disc images without those sectors are a form of circumvention -- but I think it would be very difficult for Sony to make that argument in court while selling a PCSX-based emulation box.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                PaulT (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 12:55am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                "Right, but PS1 discs aren't encrypted"

                Encrypted? No. DRMed? Yes, no matter how weak it is in reality.

                "those are only necessary for playing on (unmodified) authentic PlayStation hardware, not for playing in an emulator"

                However, does the licence for the software include an agreement that playing in an emulator is implicitly allowed, or is it only sold with the understanding that it will be used in a legit unmodified console?

                If the latter, then it still makes a difference as Sony will be selling the new licences to allow emulated play, but other games would necessarily be breaking the original licence agreement - and yes, there was an agreement even if you didn't bother reading it on the original game documentation

                "I think it would be very difficult for Sony to make that argument in court while selling a PCSX-based emulation box."

                Given that you have to hack the console in order to get that box to play anything other than the games pre-approved at the time of purchase? No, I don't think it would be difficult at all.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Thad (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 8:11am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  However, does the licence for the software include an agreement that playing in an emulator is implicitly allowed, or is it only sold with the understanding that it will be used in a legit unmodified console?

                  The Bleem! case explicitly established that it was legal to sell an emulator that would allow users to play PS1 discs on a PC.

                  Given that you have to hack the console in order to get that box to play anything other than the games pre-approved at the time of purchase? No, I don't think it would be difficult at all.

                  But that's a completely different argument. If you modified a PS Classic to run unauthorized software, then Sony can certainly make the argument that you violated the anti-circumvention clause.

                  The argument is that modifying the console violates the anti-circumvention clause, not that ripping a PS1 CD to play it in an emulator does.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • icon
                    PaulT (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 9:05am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    We seem to be going in circles here. You were questioning why someone would wish to buy a Classic if they were just going to hack it, and I gave you a simple answer - people might want to pay Sony for the games. Everything else is just an example of how complicated even more basic DRM makes things.

                    "The Bleem! case explicitly established that it was legal to sell an emulator"

                    But, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the supply of games.

                    "on a PC"

                    We're also explicitly not talking about a PC. We're talking about a box that comes with games pre-loaded, for which it is then necessary to circumvent DRM and make implicitly non-approved modifications in order to play additional games.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • icon
                      Thad (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 10:13am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                      We're also explicitly not talking about a PC. We're talking about a box that comes with games pre-loaded, for which it is then necessary to circumvent DRM and make implicitly non-approved modifications in order to play additional games.

                      And I was contrasting that with playing them on some other machine (a Pi or whatever).

                      It's illegal to play unauthorized games on the Classic, because doing so requires circumventing its copy protection.

                      It's not illegal to, say, buy a Raspberry Pi and a bunch of old PS1 discs, rip the games, and play them on the Pi, because no circumvention occurs.

                      Emulators are legal. Copying software for the purpose of running it on different hardware is legal. Circumventing copy protection measures is illegal, but merely copying the contents of a disc is not circumvention.

                      If you buy a Raspberry Pi and rip games to run on it, that's legal. If you buy a PS Classic and hack it to run games other than the ones included, that's illegal. Between those two choices, the legal one is, ironically, not buying from Sony.

                      I suppose there may be some people who want to buy a PS Classic and hack it because at least they're giving money to Sony and the publishers of the bundled games. (It's not a particularly appealing selection of games, but okay, it's got FF7, MGS, and Tekken 3; there are some good ones in there.) I think that's likely to be a pretty small group, but maybe they're out there, and more power to 'em. Buy what you want.

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                      • icon
                        PaulT (profile), 19 Dec 2018 @ 12:16am

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                        "It's not illegal to, say, buy a Raspberry Pi and a bunch of old PS1 discs, rip the games, and play them on the Pi, because no circumvention occurs."

                        ...unless you don't have access to the disc in which case the distribution of a usable copy is illegal.

                        You seem to be solely addressing a situation where a person only wishes to play games they already physically own, whereas I'm addressing the more common reality where people want to obtain games they don't own on disc - legal in the case of buying the PS Classic, illegal in the case of obtaining anything else, even if the game is not available through any means other than file sharing.

                        "I think that's likely to be a pretty small group"

                        Nobody's argued otherwise, I just answered your question about why that group exists.

                        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                PaulT (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 5:45am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                "Right, but PS1 discs aren't encrypted"

                Encrypted? No. DRMed? Yes, no matter how weak it is in reality.

                "those are only necessary for playing on (unmodified) authentic PlayStation hardware, not for playing in an emulator"

                However, does the licence for the software include an agreement that playing in an emulator is implicitly allowed, or is it only sold with the understanding that it will be used in a legit unmodified console?

                If the latter, then it still makes a difference as Sony will be selling the new licences to allow emulated play, but other games would necessarily be breaking the original licence agreement - and yes, there was an agreement even if you didn't bother reading it on the original game documentation

                "I think it would be very difficult for Sony to make that argument in court while selling a PCSX-based emulation box."

                Given that you have to hack the console in order to get that box to play anything other than the games pre-approved at the time of purchase? No, I don't think it would be difficult at all.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Dec 2018 @ 5:17pm

    In the end, why should Sony care if people hack the PSC? Sony got paid for the console when someone bought it. They're not getting a 'pay per play' on the included games or anything like that. Now it has been hacked, there's no reason to try and take back the control.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 17 Dec 2018 @ 1:10am

      Re:

      "there's no reason to try and take back the control"

      Have you looked at Sony's history? Having no reason to do something like that won't stop them. We are talking about a company that created its own bespoke memory format to control the supply rather than use an existing open set of standards.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 17 Dec 2018 @ 9:21am

        Re: Re:

        True, but that was an attempt to discourage piracy of current games. Sony may not be as concerned about piracy of twenty-year-old third-party games that it couldn't get the licenses to sell anyway.

        It's pretty clear that the PS Classic is a rush job that was pushed out the door to meet a Christmas deadline. It's a cash grab. Sony only cares about it insofar as it makes money.

        Of course, I wouldn't put it past Sony to retaliate against hackers; it's done so before. But I think the Classic is distinct from the PS3 and the Vita insofar as Sony really doesn't care about it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 17 Dec 2018 @ 11:27am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "True, but that was an attempt to discourage piracy of current games."

          I don't think so, at least not entirely. If they were only used by their consoles, sure, but give that it was forced on everything from camcorders to laptops, it was really just about control and fleecing.

          Memory Stick was just another example of Sony attempting to lock customers into a proprietary format that only they control. Betamax, Minidisc, and so on - they are examples of a company who would rather exercise the illusion of control over their customers than competing using established standards.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Thad (profile), 17 Dec 2018 @ 12:10pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Fair enough; I thought you were talking about the Vita memory card, not Memory Stick.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 17 Dec 2018 @ 1:08pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Yeah, I was thinking the other way round, as I've never owns a Vita but have had the misfortune of trying to support Sony hardware for people who don't understand why their Memory Sticks cost so much more than SD Card users.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Rekrul, 18 Dec 2018 @ 8:25pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          True, but that was an attempt to discourage piracy of current games. Sony may not be as concerned about piracy of twenty-year-old third-party games that it couldn't get the licenses to sell anyway.

          Sony once sued to try and stop the sale of commercial emulators that allowed people to play some PS1 games on computers. There was no piracy involved since they were designed to load the games from the actual discs. Sony just didn't like the idea of people playing PS1 games on a system they didn't personally authorize.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2018 @ 5:20am

    honey...pot
    Better pay cash for this gift.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 18 Dec 2018 @ 8:27pm

    I figured the console would get hacked. Most of these plug & play systems do. What would be really impressive would be if they figured out a way to plug in a USB CD/DVD drive and get it to load games off original PS1 discs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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