With the lack of a browser available since launch, many people thought the Nintendo Switch was virtually piracy-proof. However, a team out of China has managed to get a custom firmware running on the system that allows playing both homebrew and pirated games. The most interesting twist to this is the pirates have enabled a licensing fee in an attempt to stave off other pirates from pirating their work.
Attempting to load a copy of the firmware that is unlicensed will cause the SX OS firmware to execute a "brick code" path that is designed to lock up the system's NAND memory behind a password, effectively bricking the system. According to Ars Technia, it's possible to recover from this bricked state, but it's not easy unless you know exactly what you're doing.
Vulnerability researcher Mike Heskin discovered the piracy protections in SX OS and published them on his blog. He says SX OS appears to be modified code from Team ReSwitched, which are working on an open source version of homebrew Switch firmware.
"If I worked on cracking the Switch itself, why shouldn't I try to do the same with their product? It's out there for anyone to grab and has multiple layers of obfuscation, seems like an interesting puzzle to me... I just like to crack DRMs."
In an interview with The Verge, Team Xecutor said they're just participating in a cat and mouse game between hackers and that they're not intentionally bricking anyone's console. They say the license is required to make sure people are running a "safe and well-tested product", but Heskin has already started taking apart SX OS to see what these Chinese pirates are doing.
" The license didn't hinder in the slightest my progress in cracking the SX OS. Ironically, it had the reverse effect since I was able to observe where and how the next stages are loaded into which in turn allows to improve emulation solutions to further crack the code."
Heskin maintains that his work with Team ReSwitched as a homebrew developer is different than pirates who allow people to run un-authorized backups of software on the console. He called piracy despicable and a toxic practice that goes against the homebrew communities' values.
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