Monday, November 21, 2005

Your E-mails

Thanks to all of you who e-mailed about Xbox 360 security. I received a ton of e-mails, and here are a few excerpts.

I originally thought that case intrusion detection was a sure-fire way to control modding, and I received quite a few e-mails that agreed. However, I don't think any of us had heard of a "bolt-on" modchip before--at least, I hadn't.

First, from Ryan Mattson:
One innovation in modchip technology that seems to have begun with the Xbox is the bolt-on chip, as opposed to needing to solder the chip to the board. This served a dual purpose of being easier to install, so the average customer might buy a bolt-on modchip moreso than solder-on modchip, but also could be taken off if the user wanted to play games on Xbox Live.

Microsoft is going to do everything they can to keep modchips off the Xbox 360 and any subsequent system, but the bolt-on chip is going to be impossible to detect if it isn't bolted on. So while Microsoft, or some crafty hacker, may be able to devise a way to detect if a modchip is installed but powered off, I don't think there's any feasible way to detect the bolt-on modchip.

Then there's this from Skylander:
Basically from the limited research that I have here, a modchip switches the XBOX bios. So when you boot up the Xbox instead of using the Microsoft bios to run the regular dashboard you are using the modchips. Now if you are using a solderless modchip--one that you can just plug into an unused port--you can just take it out taking the bios with it. You therefore just go back to the original stock Microsoft bios...These are all external devices--once you turn them off, they aren't there anymore. They don't go in and physically change the microsoft BIOS from what I can tell, they just switch it to their own, hooking. Unless they save something onto the harddrive there isn't a way that I can see that Microsoft can go in and see if there is a modchip.

It would seem that this kind of modchip would be entirely undetectable unless someone forgot to remove it before connecting to Xbox Live. Unless, and this is a big unless, the modchip actually writes information to the hard drive. That would, in theory, be detectable.

If you're interested in how Microsoft is handling this with the existing Xbox, I received several e-mails about what Microsoft is doing with Halo 2. Allegedly, Live can already detect soldered-on modchips as well as replaced hard drives (thanks Dave Kramer, Jason Ballew, and Frank Regan). Dave sent me an interesting forum thread if you'd like to read a few more details about this:

Then Alan Reeve had an interesting thought:
I just read your latest article re: mods and I'll say that I'm not convinced the the modders want the chip to be fully undetectable. I think it's a game of cat and mouse. They break the detection and sell a product... MS does something to prevent new games/services from being played with the Mod... they circumvent that and sell a second chip... and the cycle continues.

I hadn't thought of that, but from a money-making standpoint, it makes perfect sense.

Allen Varney, who is an excellent, interesting writer, saw my column about real-world merchandising via Xbox Live and sent me a link to an article he wrote for The Escapist. He envisions a future where MMORPG's are actually sponsored by corporations like Target or Starbucks. That's not unreasonable, either. Like I said last week, that could just be considered another form of marketing expense. Here's the link:

And here at the end, an e-mail from Chris Vytlacil about the game show Jeopardy having a question about World of Warcraft--and Leeroy Jenkins, believe it or not. Here's the link:

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