News of exploits to allow the running of both pirate and homebrew code gave hope to tinkerers and buccaneers alike, but the fun has rarely lasted long.
It began when hacking veterans Team-Xecutor revealed that they’d developed a kernel hack for the Nintendo Switch. That led to news of a hardware solution that exploited a fundamental flaw in the Switch system, one that Nintendo would be unable to stop.
Or at least that was the theory.
In June, hacker SciresM announced that Nintendo had implemented tough anti-piracy measures that are able to detect whether a digital copy of a game has been purchased legitimately.
In basic terms, when people attempt to go online with a game, their Switch checks whether it can get a device authorization token from Nintendo. If a token is granted, the console can then obtain an application authorization token for the specific title being played. If Nintendo doesn’t like what it sees, it can prevent a console from going online.
Among potential pirates on the Switch platform, the news was met with huge disappointment. Online access is a massive part of today’s gaming world and killing it is a significant move from Nintendo. Unfortunately, the bad news isn’t going to stop with Switch measures.
On July 30, Nintendo released a software update (11.8.0) for the 3DS which on the surface didn’t appear to offer much.
“Further improvements to overall system stability and other minor adjustments have been made to enhance the user experience,” Nintendo promised.
However, it now transpires that Nintendo isn’t being completely open about what this update can do. Yet again, it’s been left to SciresM to make matters public.
“Looks like 11.8.0 backports the Switch’s aauth ideas to 3ds — network comms now send an encrypted(?) copy of app ticket to the server,” he reveals.
“They may not act on it immediately, but like on Switch this lets [Nintendo] perfectly detect pirate accesses vs normal ones, and ban however they like.”
Looks like 11.8.0 backports the Switch's aauth ideas to 3ds — network comms now send an encrypted(?) copy of app ticket to the server.
They may not act on it immediately, but like on Switch this lets N perfectly detect pirate accesses vs normal ones, and ban however they like.
— Michael (@SciresM) July 31, 2018
In basic terms, this means that Nintendo has brought its formidable Switch-based anti-piracy system to 3DS, meaning that users of both gaming devices now risk being banished to the offline gaming wilderness if they go online after sailing the piracy high seas.
While anti-piracy measures are commonplace and are often defeated by determined hackers, SciresM isn’t confident that people will find a way to defeat this system. In response to a user on Twitter who asked about a potential workaround, SciresM was pretty clear.
“It is not possible to do anything about,” he said.
The latest update for 3DS is just the latest setback for Nintendo hackers. Earlier this month, SciresM revealed that some Switch consoles discovered in the wild were not vulnerable to the supposedly unstoppable exploit found earlier in the year. This, thanks to Nintendo tinkering with the Switch processor via so-called ‘iPatches’.
However, in the back-and-forth world of console hacking, victories for console makers are often countered by hackers. In an announcement this week, Team-Xecuter revealed that the modified Switch units were on its radar and they too will fall.
“So don’t fear: we will deliver a solution for these new ‘unhackable’ switches in due time!” the team wrote.