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Hacker demos firmware update restoring Linux on the PS3

Apr 8, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 7 views

“Geohot” posted a video yesterday demonstrating a tweaked version of Sony's 3.21 firmware update for the PlayStation 3, apparently restoring the ability to load Linux on the console. It's said the CFW (custom firmware) may even work on the “Slim” consoles introduced last year.

Geohot (George Hotz) announced his intentions to develop the CFW (custom firmware) hack when Sony tipped its plans to release a 3.21 update on April 1 that would block the "OtherOS" feature on the PlayStation 3 (PS3). For four years, thousands of PS3 users have used that feature to load various Linux distributions on the game-player. 

Geohot did not offer many details on his CFW update, nor did he say when it might be publicly available. Geohot, who is known for exploits such as jailbreaking the iPhone, previously said he might use a technique similar to Hellcat's Recovery Flasher to get the PS3 (pictured) to accept the altered version of the 3.21 update.

The video (shown farther below) appears to show the CFW hack enabling the continued use of Linux on the PS/3, while still offering access to the PlayStation Store and other features. In his blog introduction, Geohot says users won't need to open up their PS3 boxes. Instead, they will simply need to restore a custom generated PUP file from version 3.15 or earlier.

Can the Slim finally run Linux?

In the blog post, Geohot also offers this intriguing tease: "It's possible this CFW will also work on the slim to actually *enable* OtherOS; I'll know when my infectus gets here." Here, Geohot is referring to the new "Slim" versions of the PS3 introduced last year, for which Sony quietly removed the "OtherOS" feature without explanation, thereby blocking alternate installs.

Geohot suggests that there are over 100,000 PS3 users who make use of the OtherOS feature. Many of these, mostly Linux-using, PS3 users are waiting for the CFW release before deciding whether they should install Sony's update — and lose Linux access — or remain with an older version that will lose compatibility with new titles and technologies.

Sony has warned that those who don't upgrade won't be able to sign into the PlayStation Network, use "online features of PS3 games and chat," or play Blu-ray discs or games that require 3.21 or higher. In addition, they won't be able to play copyright-protected videos that are stored on a media server "when DTCP-IP is enabled under Settings," the company adds.

Presumably, Geohot's CFW update will allow the continued use of all these technologies, as well as optional OS installs. However, loading it would likely be a violation of Sony's PSN terms of service and warranty, and Sony may well release another update with a more robust security system. According to Sony, the continued use of optional installations threatens security for PS3 users, although the Japanese consumer electronics giant doesn't explain how.


Geohot's demo of PS3 3.21 with OtherOS on YouTube
(Source: Geohot Blogspot, YouTube)
(Click to play)

Sony's PS3 update causing havoc

Users who have installed Sony's version of release 3.21 for the PS3 are reporting system errors after loading the update, according to a story yesterday in Computerandvideogames (CVG). Numerous complaints have appeared on the PlayStation forums, reporting system errors that include blank screens, disc read errors, locked PSN accounts, and "even systems that won't power up," says the story.

Several posts on the forums complain that after installing the update, and visiting the PlayStation Store, a blocking message flashes, "This service is not available in your country/region." Meanwhile, others are using the forums to complain about the update, which they say offers little in the way of new functionality in addition to removing the OtherOS feature. As one user puts it, "Seriously Sony!?!?! You are going to force an update on us that only takes away functionality!??!?!?!"


The Geohot blog posting announcing the successful development of the Sony PS3 3.21 custom firmware may be found here.

The PlayStation forum threads on Sony's 3.21 update may be found here. The CVG story on the complaints over Sony's update should be here.

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