January 12, 2011

PlayStation Hackers Under Attack By Sony

Game hackers are experienced in fending off attacks from large foes, so how will they fare against an attack from Sony Corp? 

Sony has launched a salvo of legal actions against hackers who uncovered and published security codes for the Sony's PlayStation3 game console.

This software alteration potentially allows console owners to operate other software on their consoles, including pirated games. Sony's lawyers are arguing this constitutes copyright infringement and computer fraud.

George Hotz, one of the hackers at the center of the dispute, told BBC News that he was "comfortable" the action would not succeed. "I am a firm believer in digital rights," Mr. Hotz said.

"I would expect a company that prides itself on intellectual property to be well versed in the provisions of the law, so I am disappointed in Sony's current action. "I have spoken with legal counsel and I feel comfortable that Sony's action against me doesn't have any basis."

The twenty-one year old Mr. Hotz, who rose to prominence for breaking Apple's iPhone security, is named as a defendant alongside more than 100 other people associated with a hacking group known as fail0verflow.

In the filing, submitted to the Northern District Court of California, Sony asks for a restraining order that bans Mr. Hotz from further hacking and prevents distribution of the software produced as a result.

"Working individually and in concert with one another, the defendants recently bypassed effective technological protection measures employed by Sony," the filing states.

"Through the internet, defendants are distributing software, tools and instructions that circumvent the [protection measures] and facilitate the counterfeiting of video games. Already, pirate video games are being packaged and distributed with these circumvention devices."

The legal argument centers around a series of codes that Sony uses to protect its system from being used for unauthorized purposes. Among them is a number used to "sign" all PS3 games and software as a way of proving that they are genuine.

Once the key is known, however, it can be used to sign any software - including unofficial software and, potentially, pirated games. The encryption on the PlayStation software has, until recently, remained untouched.

Members of fail0verflow demonstrated the first breakthrough in December when they presented a security exploit at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin. Mr. Hotz then revealed that he had uncovered the secret signing number using a similar method.

Recently fail0verflow's website was taken down overnight, replaced with the message "Sony sued us" and a brief statement. "We have never condoned, supported, approved of or encouraged video game piracy," it says. "We have not published any encryption or signing keys. We have not published any Sony code, or code derived from Sony's code."

fail0verflow denies promoting software piracy and that the software alteration was for the legitimate use of console owners who wish to install their own operating system and test personal software.

Sony had indicated previously that it would try to fix the hack by updating the PS3's software over the internet.


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