Is Microsoft using 'Halo 2' to thwart Xbox hackers?

Hundreds of Xbox owners with modified consoles say they've been banned from the Xbox Live service in the past few days. Photo: Mod chip inside Photos: 'Halo 2' arrives

Microsoft appears to be using its smash "Halo 2" game as a vehicle to crack down on mod chips and other hacks of its Xbox video game console.

Hundreds of Xbox owners have reported in online forums in recent days that they were banned from Xbox Live, Microsoft's online gaming service, after trying to play "Halo 2" online with a modified console.

News.context

What's new:
Xbox Live users say they've been banned from their boxes after trying to play "Halo 2" on modified consoles.

Bottom line:
Console makers have long used any means available to thwart illegal copying of games. Critics say a modded Xbox can yield online cheating that ruins the gaming experience for paying customers.

More stories on Xbox hacking

A Microsoft representative would not specify which additional security measures, if any, have been added to Xbox Live around the "Halo 2" launch. "Microsoft listens carefully to the Xbox Live community and reserves the right to take steps necessary to preserve the integrity of the user experience," the representative said in a statement. "Our goal is to provide our users with secure, consistent and fair online game play. Users are not permitted to manipulate the system to the detriment of others."

"Mod chips," gray-market add-ons that allow game consoles to run imported discs, pirated games and homemade software, began circulating for the Xbox shortly after the game machine went on sale four years ago. Hackers who equip their Xboxes with mod chips and other upgrades, such as bigger hard drives, have gotten the consoles to perform all sorts of unauthorized tricks, including running Linux software and serving as digital media centers.

Microsoft and other hardware makers have long fought against mod chips, chiefly because those chips abet game piracy. The software giant's activities culminated in a Justice Department raid two years ago in which federal lawmakers took over a Web site used to sell mod chips and swap illegally copied games.

Billy Pidgeon, an analyst for research firm Zelos Group, said console makers have long used any means available to them to thwart mod chips and halt illegal copying of games. The advent of online gaming for consoles has raised the stakes, he said.

"They're worried not just about enabling casual piracy but also about cheating," Pidgeon said. "A modded Xbox can allow all sorts of new avenues for cheating online and ruining the experience for paying customers. I would argue that Xbox Live is a great experience for the end user precisely because it's a closed, controlled environment, and anything that threatens that is a real concern for Microsoft."

As first reported by CNET News.com, Microsoft has also used Xbox Live since its inception to crack down on mod chips and other hacks. The Xbox Live user agreement states that "Xbox Live may only be accessed with an unmodified, except for Microsoft-authorized repairs and upgrades, Xbox video game console. Any attempt to disassemble, decompile, create derivative works of, reverse engineer, modify, further sublicense, distribute or use for other purposes either the hardware or software of this system, is strictly prohibited and may result in termination of your account and/or your ability to access Xbox Live."

The agreement further gives Microsoft authority to "retrieve information from the Xbox used to log onto Xbox Live as necessary to operate and protect the security of Xbox Live and to enforce this agreement."

Initial Xbox Live antihacker measures focused on checking a

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