While the Wii has its own unauthorized Homebrew Channel and Microsoft plays whack-a-mole with pirates on the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3 has remained a relatively secure system for Sony. That could soon change, as BBC News is reporting on new breakthroughs made by hackers that threaten to crack the PS3 wide open for people to install and run unauthorized software on the system, from homebrew applications to pirated games and custom firmware.
The breakthroughs came from a group of hackers known as fail0verflow, and George Hotz, who originally gained notoriety for jailbreaking the iPhone. Speaking at a hacker conference in Berlin last month, fail0verflow members pointed out flaws with the PS3's security and explained a method that could be used to determine security keys, numbers that tell the system a given bit of code has been approved by Sony to run on the console.
That was followed shortly by Hotz discovering and disseminating the system's master key. While Hotz had previously used an exploit with the system's OtherOS feature to run unauthorized software on the PS3 (an exploit that was addressed when Sony removed the feature from the system), the release of the master key causes problems that aren't easily fixed with a firmware update.
"The complete console is compromised - there is no recovery from this," a member of fail0verflow going by the handle pytey told the BBC, saying that the only way for Sony to fix the problem would be in future hardware iterations of the PS3. He added that Sony's removal of the OtherOS option from the PS3 Slim drew the hacking community's attention, and the firmware upgrade to take the feature out of the original model PS3s outright antagonized them, making the previously secure system a target for hackers.
Neither fail0verflow nor Hotz condones piracy, but they all acknowledge that it will be a likely outcome of their recent breakthroughs. As of press time, Sony had not responded to GameSpot's request for comment.