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Microsoft and hackers dismiss danger to Xbox 360 security

Microsoft may be at odds with people trying to break through Xbox 360 security, but for once it agrees with them - the console's core security is unthreatened by a DVD firmware hack reported this week.

Microsoft has greeted reports of a hack to run pirated Xbox 360 games by claiming that the "core security system" is intact - and, unusually, the hackers themselves seem to be in agreement.

Last week, hackers said they had fooled an Xbox 360 into running a copied version of Project Gotham Racing 3 by modifying the DVD drive firmware, which was apparently left relatively unprotected, so that it sidestepped an authentication routine. Video footage of the game booting seemed to confirm this.

Since then, those responsible have said their motive was curiosity rather than a desire to pirate games or develop a mod chip capable of circumventing security regularly - and claim they will not release information on how to repeat the feat, and that it's useless in its current form anyway.

Gamerscoreblog, a page run by Xbox employees, this week aired a statement from Microsoft which, though it stopped short of admitting that this particular hack is legitimate, did promise to counteract security threats with software updates - something the group behind the hack acknowledged was possible.

In an interview with Xboxic, one of the hackers involved - calling himself Robinsod - said, "We will not be releasing a hack, we won't sell it and no-one from Microsoft has approached me either to pay me off or shut me up with legal threats."

"I want to polish this hack a little more for my own satisfaction and then I will consider it done. All the information needed to implement this hack is available and I have no interest in doing further research," he added.

He also warned anybody eager to try and repeat the feat of the potential dangers. "This hack is useless to the public in its current form, it has not been 'weaponised' and currently requires that the flash chip is removed from the drive circuit board and inserted into a special flash programming device. And I want to stress that if you don't know what youâre doing you can easily destroy your 360 - don't do it."

Xbox enthusiasts should also watch out for software and mod chips claiming to be based on the hack, he said, as they will almost certainly be designed to destroy vital software or simply scams designed to make money.

Microsoft also played down the significance of the breakthrough in its statement. "The core security system has not been broken. However, it is reported that the authentication protocol between the optical disc drive and the console may be attacked, which if accurate could allow people to play illegally copied games," the Gamerscoreblog statement says.

"Our security team is aware of this and we are investigating potential solutions to this issue. The Xbox 360 platform was designed to be updated, and we are prepared to respond appropriately should any unauthorized activity be identified.

"Everyone should keep in mind that Microsoft invests a great deal of time and effort to ensure that Xbox gamers enjoy the most powerful and exhilarating game experience available today. Genuine and unmodified Microsoft Xbox products provide gamers with the reliability, security, support and dynamic gaming experience that they expect. Microsoft works with a large group of legitimate business partners to sell and service genuine Microsoft Xbox products. Microsoft does not authorize or support any products or companies that modify or change the Xbox console in any way."

Microsoft has in the past declared Xbox 360's security to be its best yet, and attempts so far to break through it have yielded little success. That said, Robinsod reckons there's a better chance of it happening than not.

"Given the complexity of the software (and MS's reputation for secure software) it seems unlikely that there's no way in," he told Xboxic.

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Tom Bramwell avatar
Tom Bramwell: Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.