Cracking The Vita: A Hacker Speaks

Among hackers and modders, Sony's PSP is a favourite for its hack-ability. Depending on one's knowledge, the portable console can be altered to play custom games and programs (homebrews) as well as pirated games. Taking all it's learned from the weaknesses of the PSP, Sony developed the PS Vita with safeguards against such hacks and mods. But recently, a hacker in Japan has utilized a security hole to hack into the Vita and successfully run his own custom program, much to Sony's chagrin. The hacker known as "Wololo" recently talked with Kotaku about the Vita's security.

A software programmer in Japan and four-year veteran hacker, Wololo is in fact not Japanese, but French. Beginning in 2007 with the PSP, Wololo created his homebrew card game "Wagic" that ran utilising a security exploit in the console. He described his reasons for hacking as the enjoyment of exploring and experimenting.

"Mostly, it's for the excitement of making the device do something it wasn't supposed to do initially," Wololo told Kotaku via email. "The rush of adrenaline you get when the screen finally displays a "hello world", especially after hundreds of hours of failed attempts or experiments."

In regards to the recent developments with the PS Vita security hole and his work on the homebrew program, Wololo elaborated that the weakness was not in the Vita's system, but rather, in the PSP emulator. This exploit was discovered by another hacker, "Teck4" who worked with Wololo in testing the exploit and homebrew programs. The hacking process utilises a common "buffer overflow" vulnerability found in many PSP games that allows them to run programs inside the emulator, but is not "a real Vita exploit."

According to Wololo, "The Vita exploit, in essence, is nothing more than the same recipe applied to the PSP emulator, this is why it was so 'easy' to put in place."

Shortly after the exploit was announced, the downloadable game with the security hole was removed from the PlayStation Store. This course of action was seen as both understandable, and perhaps paranoid on Sony's part. Wololo explained that he had only announced on his blog what the title of the game was, and not the details, and yet Sony had acted almost immediately.

"I didn't realise I have a reputation high enough that Sony is ready to remove a full game and lose money on this," he said. "It was a dangerous move on their side, I could have been bluffing the entire time."

Wololo stated that Sony's immediate removal of the game, as well as the counter-piracy measures that were implemented in the development of the Vita seemed a little "over the top" and restrictive, especially for legitimate users. "In particular," Wololo explained, "the PC specific software (CMA) required to copy content from and to the vita is way too restrictive and intrusive -- it requires people to be constantly connected to the internet when the copy files."

Most of the measures put in place by Sony, are to counteract piracy. Wololo made the distinction between hacking and piracy and stated that much like Sony, he does not agree with piracy, and even showed empathy to Sony for wanting to protect their product. But he reiterated his disappointment in the fact that Sony's anti-piracy measures could dishearten honest customers more that pirates.

"The best example I can give is my constant issues with DVDs on the PS3," he said. "The Japanese version of the PS3 does not support PAL playback.

"The DVDs I bought in France do not work on the PS3, not because of a hardware limitation, but because of software locks," he continued. "That kind of thing really annoys me because Sony makes it easier for me to pirate a movie than to watch one I legally purchased. Lots of those DVDs are cartoons for my son. I would love him to learn a bit of French by watching French cartoons, but he can't, because the PS3 refuses to play them."

Despite his disapproval of Sony's security tactics, Wololo expressed genuine enthusiasm for the Vita as a product, and stated that he looks forward to continue tinkering with it. As for fear of repercussions from Sony, Wololo stated, "Sony never contacted me about my work, so for now I'm not worried. I really believe I'm a small fish for Sony.

"Of course if I ever felt what I am doing is illegal, I would probably stop," he added. "Although sometimes what 'feels fair' and 'what's legal' seem so disconnected."

Wololo.net [Wololo.net]


Comments

    This guy is a boss.

    Apparently although Sony managed to take down the game within hours. Before announcing the game, there was a delay due to him emailing thousands of people from his website and trusted friends. So they could get the game first and he'd already have his own small community to start working on some Vita homebrew and exploring the exploit. That does make you wonder how much of a "small fish" he thinks he is though to anticipate this while not realising his ' reputation [was] high enough that Sony is ready to remove a full game"?

    I have no issue with people hacking there console just for the sake of fun or a thrill as long as they don't pirate games or tell others how they did it so the pirates can get the info and spread it on the net.

      Totally agree. I love homebrew and spend a lot of time messing around with it on my PSP and Wii, but I've never used any of the exploits to pirate games.

      If they manage to crack open the emulator enough so that we can make iso's of our current PSP collection and play them on the Vita then I'll be pretty happy.

      Sony are finally getting around to making the PS Suite, which seems like it could scratch that development itch while still making them some money, much in the same way that XNA did for MS.

      which is wololo's thing, he never supported or developed something that enabled piracy

    Misleading title is misleading (and click-bait).

    They ran the same exploit on the PSP emu that exists on the PSP; this exploit means you cannot access the actual Vita part of the Vita; the Vita was not cracked.

      What's the name of the device that this occured on?

      Whilst you are correct that this hack is not actually unleashing the power of the Vita hardware, and is a software hack, If you actually read the title properly, it reads, "Cracking the Vita". Not that the Vita has actually been cracked.

    Not to mention that it only runs code in the PSP emulator which runs slower than a real PSP.

    A PSP homebrew running on an in-built emulator for PSP...who would've known. Whilst credit is due, this is not what you're looking for.

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

      You are you seriously saying to run homebrew on other OS's besides on the PSP, are you that stupid? Your obvisously a PSP fanboy. The reason hackers do this is because it's in their nature to do so, do deny this is like telling a tree not to grow. Besides, hackers will be hackers, exploits will be exploits, the security will only be stable until a hacker exploits it, based on this fact no such security is invincible.

        your logic: lawbreakers are gonna law break, it's in their nature-why complain?

        This comment has been reported for inappropriate content and is awaiting review.

      +1 i couldn't have said it better myself

    Well saying that you only support homebrew is one thing, knowing that the majority of people that are interested in what you are doing are actually interested in pirating is another. I think youtube has something like 10000 videos claiming this lets you pirate on vita (hopefully not too many greedy gamers fall for the scams). As long as the protections don't go overboard (online drm) then I don't mind them.

    Dreamcast. we trust our players to buy our product because it is good and won't put protections on it. Whoops, everyone pirated the shite out of it, and it died. The innocent consumers were harmed by lack of DRM. PSP similar deal, development slowed down because of rampant piracy concerns.

    Computers weren't built to be secure, so they will eventually always get exploited, that doesn't mean theres a moral high ground to it. I think the days when the pioneering crackers/white hat hackers did what they did with a sense of innocence and benevolence ended in 2000.

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