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Sony tries cutting off homebrew exploits, takes down Vita game downloads


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If you've been looking for a way to play a nearly two-decade-old first-person shooter on your brand new, $250 portable, Sony is your worst enemy right about now

Sony's never-ending battle to control the content that runs on its hardware has moved to a new front on the Vita, with the company taking down downloadable versions of two PSP titles in response to reports that they include programming holes that allow the Vita to run unsigned, homebrew code.

On March 1, the hackers at Wololo.net first publicly announced that their homebrew Vita Half Byte Loader (VHBL) worked by exploiting a vulnerability in a downloadable copy of the PSP title Motorstorm: Arctic Edge, releasing a video of Doom being loaded onto the system by way of proof. Sony responded quickly, removing Motorstorm from the PlayStation Store just before VHBL was officially released the next day.

Users that had previously downloaded Motorstorm could still use the exploit, though, and the hackers claim they went to great pains to ensure that a few thousand people in and around the hacking community were able to download the game before the details of the hack were made public. Previous purchasers are no longer able to redownload the game from the PlayStation Store, however, potentially leaving some innocent bystanders without access to legally purchased titles if they delete their existing copy (Sony did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter).

Fast forward to Sunday, when the Wololo hackers teased that they had found another exploit in Japanese and European PlayStation Store download Everybody's Tennis that could, in the hackers' tongue-in-cheek words, be "extremely dangerous for [sony's] business," by letting people play titles "such as 20 year-old 8-bit games and 154 different versions of Pong." Following form, Sony once again removed the game from the PSN store just before the hackers publicly released the new exploit yesterday.

Wololo claims its VHBL hack is useful only for running homebrew software and not for playing pirated PSP or Vita games. Still, Sony has taken a zero-tolerance approach to players running unauthorized code on its systems in the past, usually responding to breaches by releasing re-secured firmware updates, which hackers subsequently re-hacked.

Now, Sony instead seems to be using its control of PSP game downloads on the Vita to try to cut off the supply of exploitable games as quickly as possible, opening up a new front in the war for control of the Vita hardware. They might have an uphill battle on their hands, though, as Wololo's hackers claimed to "collectively have access to about 5 to 10 user mode game exploits in psp games" earlier this month, and have created a so-called "exploit factory" to easily port VHBL as new exploits are found. We could be entering a new era in the Sony hacking wars, where exploits are first released quietly before being publicly deployed as tactical weapons that whittle down the number of downloadable PSP titles available from the PlayStation Store.

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