When we create a new generation of video games, we also create a new generation of technology, security, and sadly ... hackers. Finding holes in new hardware and exploiting them to do anything from copying free games to changing the technology itself, these hackers have many ways of doing things and leave many industries looking for solutions to stop it. With the PSP being hacked just days after each update, we are left to wonder why the PS3 hasn't been hacked yet and what has Sony done to stop the madness. Well, we created a feature to help explain how things are done and exactly why the PS3 is safe from these attacks.
If you have ever hacked, or watched someone hack a PSP, then you'd know how things work. You mess with the file system and trick it into reformatting itself to fit your needs. All the DRM and privilege rights are overwritten and nothing is stopping you from doing things you're not supposed to. This can be done on almost any technological piece of hardware. You can insert a UMD and copy it to a memory stick, you can take the iPhone and change the version to bypass AT&T security, or you take your PC game and upload it to a torrent site for someone else to play. Since these hacks seem to be common practice nowadays, Sony has obviously studied these exploits and went to great lengths to prevent it from happening on the PS3.
The minute your PS3 boots up, it runs through 4 stages of security at all times. All 4 stages have secrets that will need to be decoded in order to reach the next stage. So think of hacking the PS3 to be similar to a treasure hunt. You discover the clues and figure out a way to piece them all together to find the treasure. Except in this hunt for the booty, if you mess up one tiny thing, the whole mission collapses and your PS3 could possibly explode into vast reaches of outer space.
For starters, the PS3 is not easily fooled like its sibling PSP. Sony has encrypted each hard drive to only work with a specific PS3, which eliminates the possibility of switching them out like memory sticks. The hard drive is then read by the PS3 where it makes sure the drive is registered to the specific console. After verifying the hard drive, the PS3 continues to search for needed files to boot up the OS. This is merely the logo that appears or random files hidden in the system that will trigger the “OK” to boot up. The hard drive is built in layers with the “bootflag.dat” being the first file read on each start up, which then leads into the DRM file and finally ... the game files. Several files found in between each of these makes things even more complicated to bypass. We must also note that messing with any of these files will cause the PS3 to read them as missing and not boot up correctly.
If you finally get past the hard drive, you must then face the problems hidden within the actual system itself. We all know the PS3 is a beast with a hearty 7 cells running under the hood as we brag about this on a daily basis. The problem for hackers is how only 6 of these cells are actually accessible, with the 7th cell access being denied to everyone. Not even game developers have access to this 7th cell. Now why is this cell even there if we can't use it? In a simple sentence, the 7th cell runs the PS3 completely on its own. The cell boots the system up, cracks the codes encrypted in all security branches, and finally keeps the OS running while you play a game or do whatever you normally do. Remember how I talked about the PS3 verifying the HDD in relation to the system? This is where that comes into place. The 7th cell is what verifies everything that needs to be unlocked or encrypted. The 7th cell basically double checks that everything in the PS3 actually belongs to the PS3, so users cannot trade hard drives or share illegal games without the cell noticing and denying access. With the exception of communicating with other cells, this cell cannot be written to or acknowledged by an outside source, making it completely secure from attacks.