I’ve literally just come back from a Microsoft demo of the forthcoming Xbox 360 console (it’s not available here in Europe yet). Microsoft said at the beginning that much of their presentation was commercially sensitive and thus “commercial in confidence”.
As such, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to talk too much about what was discussed (but I did have a go on Project Gothem Racing, and yes, it is pretty sweet).
However the burning question I do have wasn’t actually asked, and that is “how hackable is it?”. I didn’t ask because it’s not really very professional to do so (yeah I guess I’m a sold-out corporate fuck really).
But fear not, old chums. The fact it wasn’t asked and thus discussed in the demo means I can talk about it here – yay! And it just so happens that Joystiq.com have written a piece on this very issue!
For those who don’t know, the original Xbox was hacked to death. It came with some pretty cool features (hard disk, ethernet connection, nice graphics card, etc) for a fairly cheap price (£150 these days – a lot less than what the kit in the box actually costs). This spawned a whole hacking community who turned the Xbox into a cost effective media centre that was ideal for playing video stored on your networked PC onto your TV.
Well, Bill G ain’t daft – and he’s not going to allow that mistake to happen again. Xbox360-Hacks.com (yes, it already exists) has listed a load of ‘features’ (well, annoyances) that Microsoft appear to have built into the Xbox 360 to stop this kind of naughtyness:
- The flash is encrypted with a per-box key
- The key is stored inside the CPU
- The boot ROM is stored inside the CPU
- Also inside the CPU is a hypervisor that verifies the running state of the kernel, making sure there is no
modification (RAM checksums), else the Xbox 360 panics and blows up!
- The CPU contains RAM inside of it to store the checksums
- All interrupt/exception handling is done by the hypervisor
- All code runs in kernel mode
- The emulator for first generation games can be updated via an official Microsoft download burned to CD by the
user, though the CD’s content will be encrypted and signed with public key cryptography. The boot ROM is stored
inside the CPU.
In other words, it’s tighter than a nun’s arse. And we’re talking Mother Teresa here, rather than lesbian ex-nun Anna Nolan from Big Brother 1. This is trusted computing done right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it).
With my technical hat on (it’s grey, btw) I’d have to say that you’d need to replace the processor to circumvent much of the protection (which would be difficult + expensive).
So, it’ll be interesting to see what happens on this front…