hacking the xbox

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Post on 22-Nov-2014




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A presentation I gave many moons ago to my local Linux Users Group on how to hack the original Microsoft Xbox. Mostly of historical interest today but maybe you ran across a cheap used Xbox at a garage sale somewhere and want to be able to do something neat with it.


  • 1. Hacking the Xbox By Donald Burr

2. What Well Discuss

  • What is an Xbox?
  • What can you do with a hacked Xbox?
    • Upgrade hard drive
    • Back up games onto hard drive
    • Emulators
    • Media players/media center
    • Linux
  • How to hack the Xbox
    • Hardware vs. software hacks
  • Running Linux on a hacked Xbox

3. What is an Xbox?

  • Video game console marketed by Microsoft
    • Introduced in Fall 2001.
  • Basically an embedded PC.
    • Pentium III Celeron @ 733 MHz
    • 64 MB DDR RAM
    • 8 GB hard drive
    • DVD-ROM drive
    • 10/100 Ethernet
    • 4 x USB 1.1 ports
    • NVIDIA NV2X custom graphics chip (Roughly equivalent to a GeForce 3 MX)
    • OS based on Windows 2000
  • You get all of this for $150 ($110 or lower if used)

4. Opening the Xbox 5. The Innards Exposed! 6. The motherboard itself 7. Backside of motherboard 8. Why do you need to hack it?

  • If its basically like a PC, then why cant you just toss in a Linux disk or whatever?
  • Its because of the Microsoft BIOS (TSOP)
    • It will only run signed software
      • Public key cryptography
  • You need to get around this in order to run third party (unsigned software)
    • Unless you have the Microsoft Xbox SDK, which can generate signed code

9. What can you do with a hacked Xbox?

  • Play games made for other regions (Europe, Japan, etc.)
  • Play DVDs made for other regions (Region-Free DVD player)
  • Back up games onto the internal HD and play them from the HD
    • No more lost/broken game CDs
    • Doesnt work with Xbox Live games you still need the original CD for those

10. More hacked Xbox tricks

  • Emulators
    • Atari, C-64, Arcade machines (MAME), PlayStation, ADAM, Apple ][, N64, SNES, GameBoy, and many, many, many more
  • Media Players and Media Center
    • Xbox Media Center (XBMC)
    • Plays audio and video file formats
    • Network aware (can stream content from a server)
  • And, of course, you can run Linux on it!
  • More applications being made every day

11. Caveat Hacker!!! (The Disclaimer of Doom)

  • Strictly speaking, hacking/modding your Xbox is ILLEGAL
    • Thanks to that lovely piece of legislation we know and love (NOT!), the DMCA
    • The Xbox BIOS can be seen as a digital encryption device
      • And according to the DMCA, circumventing such a device is illegal
  • That having been said, I have NOT heard of any cases where individuals were prosecuted
    • Microsoft has gone after some companies that sell mod chips, however no individuals who have bought modchips have been prosecuted.

12. More Disclaimers

  • Neither I, nor SBLUG, can or will be held responsible if you screw up, destroy, or maim yourself or your Xbox
    • Remember, you ARE voiding your warranty!
  • Nor can we be held responsible if anyone takes legal action against you
    • However, both we and the Xbox community think that this is highly unlikely.

13. Fight for your Rights!

  • This is an excellent example of Fair Use and why we should fight to protect our Fair Use rights.
  • See the EFF for more info and to get involved
    • http://www.eff.org/
  • Another VERY IMPORTANT new law that WILL affect things like this The INDUCE Act
    • So important, it deserves its own slide

14. The INDUCE Act

  • This all stems from the Sony v. Universal Supreme Court decision ruled in 1984
    • Universal sued Sony over the Betamax VCR because it could be used to copy/pirate movies
    • Sony argued that VCRs have legitimate uses and so shouldnt be banned
    • The Supreme Court agreed in this landmark decision
  • However, this ruling is now being threatened by Big Media

15. How does this affect me?

  • Its a matter of legal precedent
    • The Betamax decision set the precedent that allowed the development of other digital devices
      • iPods
      • TiVO/ReplayTV
      • CD and DVD burners
      • Computers
      • And yes, hacked Xboxen too
    • Big Media doesnt like this!
      • They want to control what content you can get, and how you can use it
      • This would effectively stifle technical innovation and Open Source projects under a mass of legal red tape
  • Fight the Power!!!

16. Hacking the Xbox

  • Two methods
    • Software hacking
    • Hardware hacking
  • Which one you use depends on several factors
    • Vintage of your Xbox
    • Your skills at soldering
    • Availability of software hacks/exploits
    • How daring you are

17. Software hacking

  • The easiest hacking method
  • Requires no additional tools (except for the software that the exploit needs).No disassembly required.
  • Typical hacker stuff exploiting vulnerabilities, buffer overflows, etc. in software (games) to get the Xbox to run your own code
  • Problem is, with the latest OS upgrades (esp. Xbox Live!), they have patched a lot of these vulnerabilities.
    • So they only work with older/unpatched Xboxes and software.
    • Youll have to resort to hardware hacking instead

18. Some example software exploits

  • Splinter Cell save-game exploit
  • MechAssault Audio Exploit
  • Bert + Ernie Font Exploit
  • Many more

19. Hardware hacking

  • Works where software hacking doesnt
  • Hardware hacking requires a mod chip
  • Mod chips available for all Xbox versions
    • Even those where software hacking doesnt work
  • Some assembly required
  • Requires you to open the Xbox
    • Hence voids your warranty.
  • Some soldering is required for new Xboxes
  • Special precautions required when using Xbox Live

20. Some terminology

  • TSOP
    • The Xboxs built in BIOS
    • Does not allow third party/unsigned software to run
  • LPC
    • Low Pin Count a sort of bus that mod chips hook into
  • D0 pin
    • A pin on the motherboard that is used by a mod chip to interrupt the normal booting of the Xbox, to insert its own BIOS in place of the standard Xbox TSOP BIOS.

21. How it Works

  • Normally the Xbox runs the code in TSOP when it is turned on
  • Mod chip triggers the D0 line, interrupts the normal boot, and runs the code on the mod chip
  • Mod chip contains a flash memory chip that you can flash your own BIOSes on
    • 1 MB = 4 x 256K BIOSes
  • Mod chip allows you to select from any of these BIOSes, or boot the standard Xbox TSOP.

22. Types of BIOSes

  • TSOP
    • Original Microsoft BIOS on motherboard
    • Only runs signed code
    • Required for Xbox Live
      • Live checks BIOS checksum when logging in
      • If it doesnt match, your Xbox is BANNED from Live
      • You can buy an EEPROM code that can un-ban your Xbox, but that is a risky proposition

23. More BIOSes

  • EvoX BIOS
    • A hacked version of the Mi