Two whole generations of PlayStation consoles plus a possible third are about to be opened up to massive software modding potential. A major exploit revealed today uses a bug in how the system handles Blu-Ray discs to open the door to custom code.
Sony has historically been very protective of the PlayStation line’s security, patching exploits and preventing owners from modifying their consoles. This is usually done in the interest of preventing cheating and piracy, though it also locks out innocent homebrew developers simply looking to make custom PS5 software.
Security engineer Andy Nguyen revealed an exploit at the “hardwear” security conference that allows arbitrary code execution on PS4 and PS5 systems, essentially opening the door for attackers to run custom code on both consoles. This is an important step in getting homebrew onto the PS5 and opens up an option that could become a reliable starting point for modifications. The exploit is also theorized to work on PS3, though the presentation only offers the suggestion that it could, not a reliable method or guarantee.
The exploit quickly caught the attention of prominent figures in the modding community, with some comparing it to the FreeDVDBoot hack for PlayStation 2. FreeDVDBoot enables games to be run off “burned” backup discs, without any modifications to the console’s hardware. Backup discs can be ideal for preservationists since playing rare games using the official discs can be risky, because if the official disc breaks it could be costly to replace.
Modding itself is important to preservation since physical media does not last forever, and also appeals to hobbyists who enjoy developing games and other custom software for consoles. However, Sony consistently tries to stomp out attempts at modding, most famously the removal of Linux from the PS3 all the way back in 2010 after it was exploited for modding the core system software. Unfortunately for Sony, at the time removing Linux caused community outrage that ended up fueling successful efforts to crack the system again.
Despite the PS4 being difficult to modify, the scene has finally opened up recently with the 9.0 firmware hack with a thriving homebrew community building around it. As more exploits are discovered with the PS5, it seems only natural that homebrew enthusiasts will find a home in the current generation as well.