Hackers claim 'jailbreak' victory with PS3 USB key

A hacker group claims it's developed a USB dongle that can override the PS3's failsafes

In the four years since Sony's PlayStation 3 has been with us, it's never been hacked to play pirated games--until now, that is, if claims by hacker group PSJailbreak prove true.

The group, reportedly operating from China or Hong Kong, claims it's on the verge of releasing a USB dongle (they're implying it's a 'jailbreak' tool) that lets you play pirated as well as homemade games on a retail PS3 by converting it into a "debug" unit, a special version of the PS3 used by developers and others to access non-retail versions of games.

The dongle comes loaded with software that the hackers claim will let players save games to the PS3's hard drive. All one has to do to get it working, they say, is insert the dongle into the PS3 and boot up.

The hackers also claim the dongle is capable of blocking Sony's mandatory firmware updates, which might otherwise disable the hack, or "brick" (render unusable) the system.

How 'on the verge' are we talking? Off the edge, apparently. Australia-based OzModChips says it's accepting pre-orders for the dongle now. The site USlists the PS JailBreak dongle for $169.99 and discounts it if purchased in quantities of two or more.

"Order worlds [sic] first PS3 modchip here," reads a headline on OMC's homepage, while at the bottom, a post dated August 19 says "Hello ps3 fans... We are currently testing out the world [sic] first Ps3 modchip. Stay tuned for more info."

The PS3 has proven the most resilient, hack-proof piece of gaming technology going since its release in November 2006. By comparison, PC games have long been pirate-prone, Sony's PSP handheld can be hacked using periodically updated homebrew code, the DS has been hackable for years using special storage devices, and both the Xbox 360 and Wii were hacked to play pirate versions of games years ago.

The PS3, by contrast, has the so-called Blu-ray deterrent. The average Xbox 360 game runs between 6 and 7 gigabytes, while Wii games run just 2 to 4 gigabytes. The average PlayStation 3 game...well, sizes are all over the map, but Sony's director of technology Tim Moss once bragged God of War III would be 35 gigabytes (I don't know what it actually clocked in at, but presumably in that ballpark). Try illicitly downloading something like that in a day on a typical DSL connection, much less in a week.

Assuming this isn't another fake, or worse--an attempt to swindle credulous would-be pirates or homebrew tinkerers--there's still the question of whether pirates would be willing to download Blu-ray-sized games.

The U.S. government recently ruled that jailbreaking--modifying software to "escalate" your privileges in using it--was fair use, and thus exempt from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Some are reading that as government legalization of the process.

Assuming the PSJailbreak dongle isn't a hoax, does it count as 'jailbreaking'? And if it does, does the government's recent ruling make it legal? We already know what the hackers think, and we can pretty much spell out what Sony's going to say, meaning we'll probably have to wait for the courts to sort it out.

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Matt Peckham

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