Gaming on Linux
Hopefully everyone had a pleasant holiday season. Only weeks into the new year and already some interesting gaming news has happened.
Noted hacker group fail0verflow has hacked the PlayStation 4, running a custom Linux port on the system. Linux has been run on prior Playstation systems, usually via USB boot, but no one expected it to happen on this system so quickly, with rough estimates of a hack being months, maybe years, down the line.
A PlayStation hack should come as no surprise to gamers, not with the PlayStation’s history of lackluster security. Fail0verflow has hacked the PlayStation 3, as well as the Wii and Wii U before. PS4 uses FreeBSD and the browser Webkit, both of which are said to be relatively easy to exploit. The PlayStation’s online network has been prone to security breaches as well, with the latest incident taking place only three days into the new year.
Fail0verflow posted a video demonstration of their custom version of Linux running on Sony’s console, taken from a Lightning Talk at the Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Germany in late December, and have released their Linux port on GitHub. Initially the group had little interest in the project, citing the Playstation 4 and Xbox One as little more than “glorified PCs.” However, while working with the system they discovered that in actuality it was not as close to a PC as they’d initially thought, yet similar enough to use to their advantage.
According to the fail0verflow:
“Linux on the PS4 actually makes a lot of sense, more than it ever did on any previous game console. It’s close enough to a PC that getting 3D acceleration working, while rather painful (as we’ve learned), seems entirely possible without undue amounts of effort (in a timeframe of months, not years), to the level needed for real indie games and even AAA titles, not just homebrew. And many thousands of indie and AAA games already run on Linux. Yes, SteamOS on the PS4 should ‘just work’ once the driver issues are sorted out.”
At present the full hack isn’t publicly available, nor is fail0verflow interested in releasing it, telling users to look elsewhere. Among the primary reasons for the decision are fear their work will be misused, possible legal issues, and that releasing the exploit would reveal information that could potentially enable piracy. Their prior exploits on the Wii and Wii U were released primarily to drive the homebrew community, but their release ended up resulting in piracy. They hope to redirect future users to reverse engineering instead of focusing on running Linux. which would be of little help to pirates but a bonus for the community.
As “marcan” of fail0verflow put it: ”[W]e really think this is the way to go for the PS4. Write an exploit, point it to our loader, and you’ll get Linux (we’ll help you get it hooked up/debugged if needed). And if you want piracy, as usual, go away.”
Another item of note: Over the holidays there was an incident in which Steam users’ personal information was leaked due to a configuration error. The event, dubbed Steam’s “Christmas fiasco,” generated pages with private account information that included billing addresses, partial credit card information and more being shown to unintended users. Luckily, there was not enough information to allow the hijacking of accounts or credit card fraud. Still, many were alarmed.
It’s estimated that around 34,000 users were affected. Valve is taking the issue seriously and has issued an online notice about the incident, assuring users that they acted as quickly as possible and that everything is now under control.
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Hunter Banks has been a part of the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) Family for the past 13 years. When not writing about open source gaming, he’s working on creating his own games. Follow him on Twitter @SilvrChariot