August 27, 2008 // 5:59 pm
- Unauthorized hacking of the PSP has been a serious problem for Sony ever since enterprising hackers managed to run unsigned code on the PSP-1000 back in 2005. The ability to revert to an unprotected version of the firmware, and later the ability to install completely custom pirate firmware has enabled some owners to play pirated PSP games downloaded from the Internet.
By some accounts, developers like Ready at Dawn and Capcom have lost more than 50% of their prospective revenues to software piracy. One estimate has software producers losing more than $4 million per week to piracy. In June, SCEE President David Reeves
stated that "There is a piracy problem on the PSP. We know about it, we know how it's done. It sometimes fuels the growth of hardware sales, but on balance we are not happy about it."
Clearly, defeating piracy is one of the biggest concerns facing designers at Sony. It appears that the company may be planning to take some drastic steps to deter homebrew on the device with the release of the new PSP-3000 model, but like always, the company remains very secretive about its plans.
The first clue that they have something up their sleeve is the fact that the company recently recalled the extended-life battery peripheral from stores, even though there were no signs that it was selling poorly. The reason for the cancellation is likely the fact that hackers had found a way to create a Pandora battery using an ordinary Sony battery like the one sold as an accessory. Pandora batteries allow hackers and pirates complete access to the PSP firmware, allowing them to override official protections against piracy.
While the PSP-3000 is confirmed to make a small number of great changes to the overall design of the handheld, we suspect that some of the biggest changes will be taking place under the hood, to fight homebrew hackers. The device will probably come equipped with a new battery pack and reboot system that renders the previous "Pandora" attack obsolete. It will also likely contain hardware changes intended to further dissuade reverse-engineering of the console. We suspect that when the PSP-3000 rolls out in October, it will come equipped with a brand new firmware (version 5.0?) containing some aggressive anti-piracy measures.
Will these changes be enough to permanently put a stop to piracy? Unfortunately, this is doubtful. Hackers have shown a great deal of enthusiasm for the device, using it to run gray-area code like emulators and chat clients, but also to pirate software. There is a vibrant and extremely skilled community of hackers poised to tear apart whatever hardware protections Sony decides to implement with the new device.
It is almost certainly a matter of time until a hacker like Dark Alex manages to penetrate the secrets of the new PSP-3000. Also, since any new firmware must be backwards-compatible with the PSP Slim and even the PSP-1000, Sony designers are limited in the kinds of protection that they can implement, at least on the software side.