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PS3 hack: What it means for you

Piracy, games and the future of PS3...

PS3's security has been hacked, potentially opening the door for pirate games, with huge implications for publishers, developers, retailers and the games we play.

The hack is said to be irreversible, with little Sony can do - but is it really the apocalyptic situation it first sounds? We dig deeper to unearth the history of the PS3 hack - and what it means for the future of your console.

Back in January 2010, hacker George Hotz hacked the PS3. He opened the door for homemade code on the PS3 with an exploit which relied on the PS3's OtherOS function.

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Sony responded with Firmware 3.21, removing OtherOS from the console altogether. Sony's castle had been built strong enough to withstand attacks from everything hackers threw at it for almost five years but by removing OtherOS they drew the attention of hackers more capable than any who had attempted to break the PS3's security before.

Hotz abandoned work on the PS3 in July but one month later Australian modders released the PSJailbreak dongle - a USB stick which opened the Playstation to unsigned software and 'backup' copies of games.

Within weeks Sony had blocked sales of the original device and rendereded it useless by Firmware 3.42's security update. Sony had been here before. The PSP had been hacked with a simple exploit early in its life and the company learned a valuable lesson; PS3 was built to resist exploits.

PlayStation had modchips, the Dreamcast was easily broken without any hardware modification, PS2 was chipped, and the Xbox 360's disc drive firmware was altered so it couldn't tell the difference between a copied game and the real thing. Hacking happens, but not to the PS3.

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Before Christmas 2010, every attempt to run homemade software on the PS3 had been an exploit or hack - tunnels beneath the castle's walls and ladders over them.

Then, at December's Chaos Computer Conference, the hacker group failOverflow publicly demonstrated homebrew code running on PS3 without modification or exploitation.

Two years earlier the team had hacked the Wii with intentions of using it to run homebrew code but the PS3 was a far bigger catch.

Their route through PS3's security took them straight in the front door. The team were able to overflow PS3's bootup and nose around, where they soon found Sony's signing keys freely available on the system.

Enter George 'Geohot' Hotz, picking up where failOverflow left off and releasing the Metldr rootkey to the public - keys which encrypt every piece of code running on PS3 and let the console know the code is authorised by Sony.

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With PS3 now unable to tell the difference between what's real and what's not, hacker KaKaRoTo made the first custom firmware for PS3 on January 4 to allow installation of homebrew files without the need for a jailbreak.

Hotz followed up two days later with his own custom firmware, adding extra functions for coders and PS3 users, and made it public. Hotz's firmware installs via Sony's usual update process from an ordinary memory stick.

Emulators and apps developed for the earlier PSJailbreak were soon up and running but backup loaders were locked out. The stated aim by both Fail0verflow and George Hotz was to restore Linux functionality to PS3.

Piracy requires a full 'level two' hack that gets you into the GameOS - something Hotz excluded from the custom firmware to prohibit pirates from running copied games.

However, hacker Riku.kh3ran worked around that and ran a backup copy of Castlevania: LOS straight from the hard drive, modifying the game's main executable to make the PS3 treat it like a legit PSN game.

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