Microsoft silently patches Xbox 360

Written by Brett Thomas

March 6, 2007 | 08:28

Tags: #360 #vulnerability

Companies: #microsoft

When you're hunting, it's important to remember the US Naval submarine cliche of "Run silent, run deep." Particularly when you're hunting pesky bugs. At least, that's what Microsoft says - both in the motto and in that it really is hunting bugs. A quiet little patch was released recently for the Xbox 360 - but it may not do what you think.

The patch was released via Xbox Live as an "OS Update" that lacked a whole lot of further description. What wasn't in that description was the primary cause of the update - to seal up a hole in the tamper protection that could allow "harmful or malicious code" to run on your 360. So far, it all sounds above-board.

What hasn't been discussed is that the "harmful or malicious" code would have to be installed by someone with physical access to the device. In other words, this "harmful or malicious" code is homebrew code. The patch is meant to seal up a potential opening where someone could install Linux or otherwise alter the default OS.

Of course, you can't really blame Microsoft for wanting to protect its investment. The "mod" scene for the original Xbox may have sold a lot of units, but it helped to damage game sales with rampant piracy. Reverse-engineering the OS led to understanding the chips and the eventual creation of the famous mod chip for pirated games. Others used the unit for a cheap Linux box - but none of the mods actually helped sell the only thing that made the company any money: legitimately purchased games.

With that in mind, it's no wonder that MS is a little eager to seal up any potential holes that have been found, particularly since this one has been discussed since early November of 2006. What's questionable is the silent and undisclosed patch to seal the vulnerability - not only was the online update completely sans specifics about the fix being included, but games made after February 20th will ship with the update piggybacked to them.

Have you got a thought on the fix? Is it just Microsoft protecting its investment, or is the sneaky roll-out not a tolerable thing? Let us know your thoughts in our forums.
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