So will Microsoft go back on an earlier promise not to use its Xbox Live online gaming service to snoop out “mod chips” – chips that modify the Xbox so it can run copied game discs and unlicensed software. This could perhaps be a question that deals with the entire future of the X-Box platform.
The 14-page user agreement and privacy notice that was included with the first Xbox Live kits sent to beta testers specifies that Microsoft reserves the right to revoke Xbox Live privileges for anyone with a hacked Xbox and to scan consoles on the network to enforce its rights. – That sounds like they reserve the right to snoop on your X-Box and what about if you have other computers connected to your home network, will they “scan” other machines on your local network?
Right now gray-market Xbox mod chips are for sale. Once installed and soldered onto the Xbox’s main circuit board, the chips disable various copy protection measures, allowing the machines to run legally or illegally copied discs, imported games and unlicensed software. Numerous hacking projects have emerged to use the chips to adapt Xbox units for use as media players and Linux boxes. In fact confirmed reports indicate that some in fact already have Linux up and running on X-Box.
Microsoft has said it will start legal action against any modifications that infringe on its intellectual property, a representative for Microsoft said last month that Xbox Live, the upcoming online service for the console, would not be used to detect modified consoles. Of course according to the user agreement, that would not appear to be the case.
In addition the agreement further states: “Microsoft may…retrieve information from the Xbox used to log on to Xbox Live as necessary to operate and protect the security of Xbox Live, and to enforce this Agreement.” The privacy statement that accompanies the agreement says information collected about specific consoles connected to Xbox Live will be used to update the console’s software, protect the network’s security and “protect and defend the rights or property of Microsoft.”
Most Xbox users that have hacked their Xboxes seem unconcerned with the potential for online snooping, saying that current and upcoming mod chips offer a number of safeguards, including on/off switches and built-in software (firmware) that can be easily modified to bypass any new security measures. “The newer mod chips…can already defeat any attempts by Microsoft to detect them, as they are firmware upgradeable via a PC parallel port”.
Much of the saga around the Xbox has centered on the system’s BIOS, the basic software instructions that control the operation of the console. Some mod chips seem to use a modified version of Microsoft’s BIOS, while more recent attempts have been based on original BIOS constructions.