NEWS - Monday, March 31, 2003

Unmodified Xbox Crack Reported

An anonymous hacker has succeeded in running Linux on an unmodified Xbox, apparently satisfying a US$100,000 challenge funded by Lindows founder Michael Robertson. A hacker using the name Habibi-Xbox revealed the exploit Saturday in a message posted on the Xbox Hacker Web site. Organisers of the Xbox-Linux Project confirmed the method works. Business manager for Melbourne based mod-chip supplier OzXChip, Michael Muir, has applauded the breakthrough. "For the scene in general it’s excellent news," he told ZDNet Australia. Muir’s company sells a mod-chip based on the Cromwell Linux BIOS which can be sold legally. Whilst Muir is firmly against piracy, he believes that developers should be free to create games for the Xbox, something Microsoft has tried to prevent. It is in this spirit that he has recognised the crack as a breakthrough, but Muir remains unsure of what it will mean to the end user. "I think for the Linux user it’s big news, it’s fabulous, but what it will turn into I don’t know," he said. "The whole security circumvention thing is not our priority... our main focus is turning the Xbox, which is a PC, back into a PC," he added. The trick involves the "save/load game" function in the James Bond game "007: Agent Under Fire," which normally allows players to save a file recording their progress in the game to the Xbox’s hard drive and later reload it. Habibi found that by using one of several USB storage devices recognised by the Xbox, the "load game" screen can also be used to load other software, including compact versions of the Linux operating system. The technique apparently exploits a buffer overflow flaw in the 007 game. "Basically, there is a bug in the save handling, which has been found in several games," Habibi wrote in the posting. Hackers have been working since shortly after the Xbox was released to modify the game console so it will run other types of software. Programmers have been successful in running Linux on consoles outfitted with mod chips, grey-market add-ons that bypass security systems in the Xbox. But most mod chips require extensive and precise soldering work, limiting their appeal. A system that runs homemade software on an unmodified console is seen as essential to popularizing Xbox versions of Linux. Michael Robertson, founder of Linux company Lindows, has encouraged such work with a two-part contest, each part carrying a US$100,000 prize. Part A, for the first team to run Linux on an Xbox, has already been met, and a prize committee is selecting the winners. Part B sets aside US$100,000 for the first to run Linux on an unmodified Xbox. British programmer Andy Green, one of the founders of the Xbox Linux Project, confirmed Monday that the 007 exploit works and said it "will qualify for some or all of the prize." A final decision won’t be made until the contest expires 31 December, however, and a prize committee assigned by Robinson assigns credit.


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