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PlayStation 3 could suffer more piracy than PSP

Sony won't "regain control" says former head of Massive Entertainment; constantly connected consoles could beat hackers

Sony will be unable to effectively combat piracy on the PlayStation 3 now that the system has been hacked, and the system could face levels of piracy greater than those seen on handheld systems.

That's according to Martin Walfisz, one of the founders of Massive Entertainment (later sold to Ubisoft), and deeply involved in the development of new DRM technologies and strategies, told that without needing a specific mod-chip to run illegal copies of games, Sony is unlikely to be able to detect which consoles are using security circumvention.

"If that hack works as reported, I don't believe that Sony can regain any control," Walfisz said. "They could try to employ a similar system to Xbox Live, so that people running hacked systems won't have access to PSN. But Sony won't be able to stop people from running pirated game copies as long as the machines are not hooked up online.

"And given that it seems that users won't even need a hardware mod-chip to play pirated games, I don't believe that Sony can even detect which users to lock out from PSN."

Piracy levels on the PlayStation 3 are likely to climb to those seen on the PSP handheld, warned Walfisz, if not further considering the installed base of the system.

"They way the PS3 seems to have been hacked, it is now completely open. The hackers can create pirated copies that completely mimic the official Sony digital signature, making it extremely easy to use pirated copies of games, without the need for any hardware chip modifications.

"I would assume that pirated copies can be stored on the HDD as well, making it so easy to use that PS3 piracy, given time, might even surpass the handhelds."

He added that the only way Sony could take back control of the PlayStation 3 would be to release new hardware, entirely unlikely considering the cost.

"I don't think that they can do much. Once a console is hacked this completely, the hardware manufacturer can't really do anything. They could maybe update their hardware for new console sales, which would be a long and expensive process, but that won't stop users from running pirated copies on the current hardware. And updating the hardware needs to be done in a way that doesn't prevent users from running already-released games. I doubt that can be done."

Walfisz, who sold World in Conflict studio Massive Entertainment to Ubisoft in 2008, said that future games consoles must be constantly connected to the internet if they hope to remain piracy free.

"I believe that future-generation consoles will require a constant online connection," he said. "If they have that in place, they can run a much more powerful DRM scheme, where parts of the game logic will only be executed on secure servers - in effect partially mimicking a client-server scheme such as MMO's use.

"Then it doesn't matter if the console is hacked, since users won't be able to play the games without being online with a valid and unique registration key."

Yesterday Sony hit PlayStation 3 hackers George Hotz and the fail0verflow group with legal action, seeking restraining orders against them and up to 100 others involved in what it called trafficking of circumvention technology. They have been ordered to remove and give up all code, software and hardware related to the hack.

In support of the group, Carnegie Mellon University research professor David Touretzky has mirrored the PS3 jailbreak files on the university website in the interests of "free speech and free computing rights" and accused Sony of "doing something breathtakingly stupid, presumably because they don't know any better."

But according to lawyer Jas Purewal, Sony had "no choice" but to go the legal route, and Hotz will be unable to avoid a successful claim against him under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

"A DMCA action was pretty much inevitable once word of this got out," wrote Purewal on the Gamer/Law blog.

"The DMCA makes it illegal for you to try to circumvent technological protection measures which a software company puts in place to protect its software. One example is The Warden, the anti-bot program used in World of Warcraft (and recently in the court's spotlight as part of the WoW Glider case).

"Another is the technical measures put in place by Sony in the PS3 which Hotz has now broken. [It's] difficult for me to see how Hotz will be able to avoid a successful DMCA claim."

He will also face a challenge fighting the claims of violating the Copyright Act. "The PS3 console software is a copyright work, which you are only allowed to use in accordance with a EULA," continued Purewal.

"If you jailbreak that software, you are outside the scope of the EULA and therefore likely committing copyright infringement. Which is a bad thing - not least because, in the USA, it can lead to huge damage awards against the infringer."

Despite the disastrous start to the year for Sony, Walfisz said PlayStation 3 security has been a success, outlasting other hardware that was so quickly hacked.

"I think that Sony should be happy that they managed to get as much time as they did before the PS3 was hacked. All the big consoles have been hacked historically, so it's hard to estimate how the lifecycle would change for a console that is never hacked."

"It's certainly interesting that the PS3 wasn't hacked until they turned off the OtherOS feature, allowing Linux to run on the console. Once they turned that off, it seems that skilled hackers decided to try to turn it on again, and in the process hacked the entire console," he concluded.

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Matt Martin avatar
Matt Martin: Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.
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