Sony cracks down on PSP hacks

Firmware update will fix flaw that lets hackers downgrade latest console software and run their own code.

Joris Evers
Joris Evers Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Joris Evers covers security.
2 min read
Sony is engaged in a tug-of-war with hackers who keep cracking its PlayStation Portable software to unlock the device and run their own applications on it.

The company is preparing another update to the PSP firmware to fix a recently disclosed bug that lets hackers downgrade the PSP system software and run their own, so-called homebrew code on the device, a Sony representative said Thursday.

"It is not...what the device was designed for," said Patrick Seybold, a spokesman for Sony Computer Entertainment America. "We plan to deal with this issue with the next system update." He declined to say when that update would be ready.

Soon after Sony released the PSP earlier this year, hackers started hunting for bugs in the software that runs the device. Flaws were found and used to run homegrown applications, such as a PDF reader and an FTP client, on the device. The bugs were not used to attack PSP users.

Sony last month updated the PSP firmware to version 2.0. The update encompassed new features, including a Web browser, but also fixed the flaws that had been exploited by the hackers. The 2.0 update was made available on Sony's Web site and will be included in new PSP games, which will require the update, Seybold said.

The 2.0 release sparked a new round of hacking. A buffer overflow flaw in the software was disclosed last week on PSP Updates, a PSP enthusiast site. The new bug can be exploited to run code on the device and to downgrade to version 1.5 of the firmware, according to PSP Updates. Version 1.5 was more hacker-friendly.

Sony is not "actively going after the people doing it," Seybold said, but the company does not advise running homebrew code on the PSP. "Running unauthorized software will void the warranty," he said.

The PSP was released in the U.S. in March. Since then, more than 2 million units have been sold in the U.S., according to Sony. The device is sold primarily as a portable game machine, but users can also play movies and music, display digital photos and browse the Internet through its built-in wireless networking.