A Look At Sony’s Ongoing War Against Hackers


[Phillip Torrone] recently wrote an article over at Make regarding Sony and their “War on Makers, Hackers, and Innovators“. In the article, he traces Sony’s history as a well-liked hardware company that once produced innovative products, to its current state as an enemy to all who would dare wield a screwdriver and soldering iron. He took quite a bit of time scouring the Internet to dig up very specific examples of Sony’s perceived assault on the hacking community. That’s not to say he simply lambasts the company and leaves it at that. Rather, he reflects on their past as a staple in nearly every American home, how they have changed since venturing into the content business, as well as what we might be able to do as hackers to change the way Sony treats its customers.

One specific example he mentions is the lawsuits that plagued the Sony Aibo modding scene, a case very near and dear to his heart. This scenario is one where the voice of the people was eventually heard, though too late to make a difference. He laments the loss of interest in the platform by the modding community as a clear cut example of the disastrous nature of Sony’s litigious nature.

You should definitely take a moment to read the article if you have the time. [Phillip] brings up some very good points, giving you plenty to consider the next time you make an electronics purchase, large or small.

We’d love to hear your take on the matter as well.

60 thoughts on “A Look At Sony’s Ongoing War Against Hackers

  1. I used to consider Sony a premium brand and happily spent more to buy a Walkman or ES series component, knowing that their products’ quality was superior to other brands’. But since the internet started making the news (around 1995?) they’ve done a great job of turning me away at every turn, and I actively avoid their products. After the rootkit fiasco, nobody has needed to tell Sony to go F*** themselves– they’re doing a fantastic job on their own.

  2. I find it fascinating that Microsoft are becoming more friendly, embracing the Kinect hacking community, whilst Sony are becoming more and more shuttered. Eventually, all these companies will realise that developers and hackers are by far their greatest product evangelists.

  3. Sony should ban modified consoles from PSN. Thousands will claim that they just want to run homebrew software. Yeah yeah, okay. There will be 1% that really are using it for that. The rest are playing downloaded games and using cheats. Cheaters drive away legitimate users and will eventually lead to less players on PSN and a decrease in game sales because online play is a major selling point but doesn’t sell so well if the service is full of cheaters.

  4. @jim – sony going after people who want to program their own robot dogs or run their own software on something the buy is not “sony protecting their IP” – this is hack-a-day, this is what we all come here to celebrate – hacking!

  5. Why does Sony continue to make me hate Sony? I have refused to buy anything Sony since they put a rootkit on my PC when playing one of their (legitimately purchased) CD’s. It’s only gotten worse since then. Bad Sony. Bad…

  6. $ony did make some nice products 30 years ago.
    But they were also unfriendly to non-qualified service personnel. Like the TV that I had to break the back off to get inside to fix it (hidden catches only a $ony authorized $ervice $hop would know, or using PNP transistors when every other major mfgr used NPN. Those things didn’t make $ony better, just a PITA to repair. Once they had a reputation of “quality” they started putting their name on first cheap Korean junk, and then Cheap Chinese Commie Crap (C^4).

  7. Don’t get me wrong, i think phil is great… BUT, is it just me or does it always look like he’s trying to suck his cheeks in like zoolander? Or is that just the way his face is? Is there a story behind this?

  8. I can’t wait for the PSP2 to come out and be ripped wide open. A quad core ARM and a 128 column display will make for a great pocket sized dev machine. I hope the bluetooth/3G are on the end of a USB bus as that will just be the icing on the cake for me.

  9. Sony is pretty evil. Installing rootkits on people’s PCs is just plain wrong. Apple has come a long ways too now; with their “patented traitorware” which will take pictures of your face, your surroundings, and random audio clips from their mobile devices (without any indication or authorization) and send it back home to the company.

    Google/Microsoft not much better but at least they’re not spying on you to this extent.

    More info from the EFF:

  10. I’ve personally avoided buying Sony products for years and actively encourage others to not buy their products also.

    Mostly what turned me of of the company is the way they stifled innovation in the video game industry, followed by doing nearly everything in their power to reinforce region locking by shutting down those who legally exported hardware and games.

    The Nail in the coffin for me is when their product quality took a nose dive and this was all before the whole Rootkit thing.

    I never knew how many offenses they had against the hacking community, but this article just reinforced my stance on the company.

  11. Thought: Perhaps the interests of users and producers of devices will always be unreconcilable. In fact, we like it this way. The word ‘hack’ is cool because it implies transgression. More importantly: Given that it is probably unreasonable to ask for the likes of sony to recognize our rights to do what we want with what they sell us, perhaps we should focus on getting those rights hammered out and recognized in actual laws.

  12. Not to defend Sony or Microsoft or any other mega corp, but I think it helps to try and understand their position.

    I’m just guessing that in some cases they don’t like hackers because they’re selling a piece of hardware at a near loss (or break even) in order to create a market to make money. Buying a kinect to stick on a robot doesn’t sell games (or game licenses).

    Same reason it costs more to buy a cell phone without a plan, or an unlocked phone.

    Hardware makers should remember however, that a little good will goes a long way to making loyal customers.

    One more point: We should praise companies when they do the right thing as much as bashing them for the wrong thing. Sony did support Linux on the ps3 after all (at least for a little while).

  13. It’s my damn PS3 (computer), I bought it! I can install linux or backup managers for it if I want to. I can also hollow it out, fill it with spray foam insulation and make a target for my new Bear Carnage! :)

    PSN belongs to Sony. They can ban me and keep me off thier network if they want to. They do have a right to do that. (I don’t use it anyways.)

    Sony suing because I ‘mod’ my PS3 is like Dell suing because I removed windows from my laptop, installed linux and backup all my software. Even if I did copy a game on my laptop illegally, it’s not Dells’ business.

    “Hack it! Make it better!”

  14. On the one hand yes, Sony is “just” trying to protect their investment.

    On the other hand, the methods they’re using are often just as illegal as the piracy they’re trying to prevent, discourage or outright harm legitimate customers. What’s more, very little effort is required to circumvent most of their DRM, which can be as simple as scribbling on your CD using a Sharpie marker, and the kind of publicity they get from it actually ENCOURAGES people to pirate their software products, instead of purchasing them legitimately.

    It’s kind of like if you had a cut on your hand, so to fix it, you amputate your entire arm and then don’t do anything to stop the bleeding.

    The OtherOS issue is, in my opinion, even worse. Sure, they supported Linux on the PS3, but then they retroactively removed it, holding the console’s ability to play certain games(Red Dead Redemption and anything released after it) hostage and demanding legitimate customers to remove a feature that had been a selling point(I was going to buy a PS3 as a Linux development box) as payment.

    At this point, I’m publicly boycotting any Sony products unless they’ve been hacked wide-open to the point where piracy on those products is easier than going to the store and purchasing the software legitimately.

  15. I remember one Christmas eve I stayed up all night formatting and re-installing windows drivers and software to my mom’s PC to remove a Sony rootkit installed without notice from a music CD.

    For those of you who don’t know the rootkit opened up security holes and would cause BSD(Blue Screen of Death) crashes. The malicious software would install itself without notifying you if you put some Sony music CD’s in a windows based PC. The initial “Fix” for this did not actually remove the rootkit and caused more problems, and it was several month before a real fix was available so format was the ONLY option.

    Now If I (or you) had done this we would be locked up for a long long time and fined up to $50,000 per system! Sony executives who did this to tens of thousands(hundreds of thousands?) of people weren’t prosecuted at all of course and paid no fines.

  16. I used to love Sony products. Since Sony thought it to be in our….. Sorry. Their best interest to infect thousands of computers with a root kit, I have avoided their products.

    Currently I will go out of my way not to purchase a Sony product. I have purchased inferior, more expensive products over Sony just to avoid potential problems.

    I grew up taking things apart, fixing them, or turning them into something else. This is something that I still do to this day. It is a very sad day when we have to be concerned that doing this could illegal.

    As time has gone on, I find that decision to avoid Sony a good one. When I purchase a product, I should not have to be worried that the product will infect my computer. I should not have to be worried that I can be sued or prosecuted because I popped the cover to fix a toy, or see how it works.

    If Sony ever changes their business practices, I would consider purchasing their products once again. At this time, I do not hold much hope that this will happen.

  17. I gave up no Sonny product a long time ago when my 32″ TV died only about a week out of warranty. after having a service person look at it he informed me that this model had a design fault in the tube and that most died before the warranty was up and were replaced. my one was not as lucky.
    Scummy would not do anyting.

    Then my 120W entertainment speakers died again just out of warranty and when I tried to get these fixed i was told there were no parts for them. $1200.00 speakers, just over 1 year use and not repairable (the amp had died)

    Never again will I purchase a sony product and tat includes the play stations etc…

  18. Seriously?
    Sony has no problem with you hacking their software/Hardware, Just don’t release it. Fucking jesus.
    But expect to pay for what you did.
    You want to pirate games with your buds? Sure, But you aren’t allowed to use PSN
    You want to Develop for PS3linux? You don’t need PSN. If you do need PSN, then it is kinda obvious that you are trying to exploit the network.
    Hack whatever you want, Post pictures, But don’t be a fucking moron like Geohot, and release the source, and a how to on how to do it. You are bound to cause things like this.
    It’s a company, they are there to make money, regardless.

  19. I do enjoy how people seem to think that massive companies like Sony.. comprised of numerous autonomous regional branches, child companies etc .. are in fact all ran by one single person that makes all the decisions that you don’t like.
    Yes, there is a guy called Soni-San that single handily controls the leagues of IP lawyers etc that any megacorp has.

    The part of “Sony” that put shitty rootkit DRM on music CDs is a totally different company from Sony Computer Entertainment.. but people seem to
    totally ignore that.

    >>to its current state as an enemy
    >> to all who would dare wield a
    >>screwdriver and soldering iron.

    All the things he has written about are where people have broken (albeit. stupid) laws. I.e. The DMCA or Sony’s IP lawyers have seen a possible threat. The way the law is implemented in many regions means that companies have to actively keep track of any potential infringements and defend against them or they lose their right to do anything.. I.e. if you have a trademark and you can’t be arsed to defend it you lose the right to defend it if you decide to do so later.

    Now if you don’t like the DMCA you should complain to your government.

    >>every American home

    They are a Japanese company. They want to sell stuff to America. They have no interest in being America’s BBF. With the current YenUSD exchange rate Sony are probably care less about the US.

    >> change the way Sony treats its customers.

    Unless Sony turns into an electronic components distributor or OEM platform vendor thats not going to happen is it. Their customers buy TVs to watch TV.. the few people that “hack” Sony products aren’t their target market. Writing stuff on the intatubes isn’t going to make them change their minds.

    >>Sony Aibo modding scene,

    They did things like break encryption which the DMCA says they shouldn’t have done. “Sony’s” automated IP lawyers came into force to “protect” their property. If someone breaks into your house and steals all your stuff does the thief giving it all to a good cause automatically make that a “good thing”? If you don’t like the DMCA complain to your government. Companies have to defend their rights in line with the law to retain those rights.. if “Sony” let “hacks” slide because it’s a “good thing” or “nice” they wouldn’t have a foot to stand on when they actually need to defend their rights against “bad things”.

    “platform by the modding community”

    Don’t buy closed stuff if you really want something that is open. Is that not common sense? If something is closed and you want something that is open and hackable don’t buy it. I wouldn’t buy a washing machine when what I actually want is a cement mixer.. I could probably hack a washing machine to mix cement but that’s not what it was sold to do. If I start distributing my hacked WashingMachineCemetMix firmware that contains or infringes on Washing Machine inc’s IP I would expect them to be a bit pissed off.
    Try to make the vendor aware of the market for an open version.. if such a market exists you might find an open version comes to market.. it has happened in the past. “Sony” have for example released hobby dev kits etc in the past, i.e. the yaroze kits for the playstation.

    >>make an electronics purchase, large or small.

    Eh? Maybe you should think when your government introduces silly laws that just maybe companies will use those laws in ways most people would consider unfair and complain about it. Don’t be surprised that large companies with tons of lawyers are going to use those laws against you if you break those laws.

  20. I do not trust a company that makes rootkits on CD’s (legaly not cd,but cd “compatible”), withdraws features on hardware one has paid for with forced updates, or a company who bases security on a random number “4”, and who sues people who want to use the hardware they have paid for.

    Sony: you are being boycotted in this houshold.

  21. @cantido. please enplane how any of what you said relates to the hacking community. you do relies we want the most out of what we OWN. if i needed a cement mixer you can bet your ass the first place i will go to is something i already own, like a washing machine.

  22. I’ve always seen sony as a manufacturer of top-quality equipment. Bear with me, for a lot of contradictions will follow here…

    …8 years ago, I bought a minidisc player after quite a bit of research. I wanted something that would fit in my pocket and sound GOOD. 8 years later, that $40 POS MD410 is STILL the best sounding portable music device I’ve ever played with. Sony did something right – They looked at the market, and listened to consumers – The minidisc generation was done RIGHT – They heard what people wanted, and gave it to them. Sure, at retail they weren’t cheap, but they were well worth the money…

    …Been playing with PSP’s since before pandora. Again, they looked at the market and figured out how to kick it’s ass. They built what is arguably, still, 6 YEARS LATER, the most technologically advanced mass-market handheld gaming device. Sure, you’ve got your iphones and droids – but, riddle me this – do the games on them have a GAME to them?

    …PS2’s – Since the PS1, sony has gone with a 10-year lifespan model – The PS2 has already beat this. Is microsoft still making xbox1’s? Is nintendo still making 64’s or gamecubes? Hmmm… It would appear that they did something right here…

    …So, where am I going here? Sony has proven that it can, does, and godwilling will continue to build kickasstacular hardware… Most likely, it will continue to do so at a loss (remember the PS3 launch fiasco?)…So, where can it make up for this? Software sales… Although I (and I’d imagine 99.999% of the rest of you) disagree with the concept, sony NEEDS legitmate software sales to make up for its hardware market. Think of it thiswise – I can build a pimped out PC for ~$400 – However, to deck it out in software it’ll take another $1000 or so… The hardware costs compared to software costs rollout wise are staggering – Hence the profit margins are directly inverted…

    …In short, Sony should have taken the OLD IBM’s business model – Build a bleeding-edge piece of machinery that’s easy to fix – Sure, you’ve got an upfront cost, but nobody will give a shit when they can do what they want with it. I personally own a PSP and PS2 – Among other things… I do what I wish with them – Sure, it ain’t helping sony, but they should have imagined that possibility in the first place…

  23. Agreed on the PSP, but I was really won over when the cool adapters that turn a couple of MicroSD cards into a Memory Schtick and broke the Dependence on actual Memory Schtick media.

    Aside from that, my break with Sorny was when they killed off my beloved Clie’ line, but then again they did see the writing on the wall when it came to Palm OS.
    I loved my PEG-TH55. It was uber cool for its day.

  24. …Never got into PDA’s but I see where you’re coming from – Dell did the same thing with the Axim – build an awesome “thing” and then kill it for no consumer-envisionable reason…

    I’m a bit drunk, but I think one point NEEDS to be made that seldom, if ever, is;

    How much of a market share does Sony, or any other manufacturer, think that WE actually represent? Here’s a simple example – The latest piece of hardware that I’ve been really involved with is the PSP – Oh, here comes the PIRACY argument. IIRC, Killzone was one of the posterchild games that was downloaded via bittorrent for more copies than legitimately sold…

    On PSPMOD, you know what the most fielded question is? “I just downloaded a game, and it won’t work. How do I play it?” Without going into detail, the vast majority of account holders had no clue what they were doing, but believed that simply because something WAS available, it was available to them. Our most common response was to either “f****n google it,” or, more preferably, LEARN what you WANT TO DO before simply expecting to be able to do it.

    …That didn’t really address anything, but I hope it served up an example. This isn’t hypothetical – I have 10 friends who are big-time gamers. They all buy their consoles and games first-hand and legitimately. As a whole, they’ve only broken the DMCA twice – Once when a buddy wanted a chip in his PS2 and again when another had a LEGITIMATE UPDATE quit halfway through and brick his PSP – He called me up and pandora came to the rescue… Taking that small group, I PERSONALLY represent a ~8% loss to the industry – I’d imagine that overall WE represent an order of magnitude less.

    …I have an excellent argument that further illustrates this point involving a hammer, tenpenny nails, and a squirrel. What it all boils down to, is, WHO THE F***K CARES? WE on the whole represent such an insignifigant threat that the work of Sony and others is simply pathetic and laughable. Apple only “won” because they got TOO popular – victims of their own marketing. Everyone must own an iphone – What about the rest of us who don’t live in an ATT market? Let’s see what the next manufacturer of game-changing technology inherits…

  25. Every time the topic of whether console manufacturers should punish homebrew and other innovative uses comes up, you hear the argument ‘consoles are sold at a loss, they make their money with software licenses’.

    Has it ever occurred to you that console makers CHOOSE this model, and that there are other options out there?

    At the time of writing, here’s how many of the current generation of consoles have sold (approximately):
    Wii: 53 million
    Xbox 360: 32 million
    Playstation 3: 25 million

    Now consider Nintendo has sold each of those 53 million Wii consoles with a profit. So if the current gen console leader can sell each console with a profit, it isn’t necessary to sell consoles at a loss to compete is it, otherwise Nintendo couldn’t have done so.

    Imagine if each Playstation 4 is sold with a profit. Would it then be in their best interest to offer Linux as an option on each Playstation 4 sold? The answer is overwhelmingly yes; one of the biggest mistakes they made with the Playstation 3 was to remove Linux without providing another homebrew-ready platform to take its place (one that made it money perhaps, if that was the issue).

  26. I don’t want to buy Sony, but I MUST buy Sony if I want to play PS3 or PSP exclusive games. Sony should care about games, PSN and copyright infrigements, not hardware, embedded software or features. Games should not force you to upgrade firmware unless there are technical limitations. Online gaming is different, PSN is their and they do what they want with it, I don’t care.

  27. Anyone who considers Region Locking as evil and considers Sony evil for using it needs to put Nintendo on the list too.

    Not only were they the first major company to use region locking on their hardware but they are still the most restrictive when it comes to region locking (AFAIK both Sony and Microsoft allow developers to choose whether to region lock their titles or not whereas Nintendo gives no such choice)

  28. @mick

    >>relates to the hacking community.

    The “hacking community” are bitching about “Sony” defending their rights.

    >>what we OWN.

    you OWN hardware and a right to use the software in the way you have licensed it.. I.e. that massive EULA that is attached says “don’t do xyz” and in the US at least the DMCA says “don’t xyz”.
    If you do things that you shouldn’t and are loud enough about it Sony has a right to come after you.. and they have to protect their IP or they lose the right to do so.
    If you chop up you PS3 and use the parts out of it Sony can’t do anything, you OWN that.. unless you start infringing on their and their suppliers ton of patents. When you start dicking around in their software and redistributing bits of it then you don’t have a leg to stand on. The US has an insane law called the DMCA,.. if Americans dont want companies to use it they shouldnt have let it go through. Hey you might get software patents too. woot!

  29. @Jonathan Wilson
    Region locking is a minor annoyance compared to the other things on that list, and FWIW I don’t think Nintendo region-lock their portable game system titles (or at least they certainly didn’t in the past).

    EULAs are not always legally binding, there have been a number of court cases where their legal status has been challenged and overruled.

  30. 5 years ago I used to point out that Sony would eat your children at any given chance.

    People criticized and mocked me but after a while they I proved all wrong.

    Now that I see this battle against Sony I don’t care at all.

  31. @Zeno Arrow

    Yes, they aren’t binding in the EU either from what I remember. The DMCA however is a different matter. Software patents will present another head ache.
    Basic copyright laws apply when people start distributing bits of modified firmware etc..
    People can bleat on and on about how they OWN their hardware. Well, you do OWN your hardware…
    If you want to desolder all the parts from your “Sony” electronics you are free and within your rights to do so. No you don’t OWN the software on it past being allowed to use it.. you haven’t been given a right to redistribute it and in the US at least you are basically prohibited from taking it apart and poking around in it.

  32. @cantido
    “The DMCA however is a different matter. Software patents will present another head ache.”
    DMCA I don’t know enough about, what parts of the DMCA are applicable here?

    As for software patents, that would only apply if the code you distributed contained code from Sony. If you write a CFW without Sony code then how can they claim to have a software patent on it?

  33. Millions have said it, geohot has in this specific case: ‘negative opinions from developers and bloggers don’t effect the bottom lines of companies so powerful. People will still buy the products no matter how bad it gets.’

    People are going to stop buying TVs, radios, and game consoles in protest like they are going to stop working to fix executive greed..

    I noticed nobody ever mentions all the missing and dead paytv hackers from the past 2 decades..money talks

  34. “Don’t get me wrong, i think phil is great… BUT, is it just me or does it always look like he’s trying to suck his cheeks in like zoolander? Or is that just the way his face is? Is there a story behind this?”

    He is definitely sucking his cheeks in like zoolander.
    I just can’t take someone with a facial expressions like that seriously, no matter what his possible accomplishments are.

  35. Seen spray-painted near where sony tried and failed yet again at viral marketing:

    I’ll ride a Brompton bicycle,
    Or I’ll teabag a mime
    before I’ll give the Sony Corp.
    Another fscking dime.

    I want to see felonies and convictions for that rootkit mischief. Just like, you know, any other person would get if they weren’t employees of a giant faceless corporation that can well afford better lawyers than your average PS3 hacker. Are we a nation of laws or of men?

  36. A war against hackers is a war lost… I have lost much faith in Sony, and this debacle on the rootkits and the robot dog severely discourages me from being a Sony customer ever again.

  37. Bottom line from me regarding the DMCA/Digital Restriction Manglement, is that there will be no Apple or Sony product purchases in my future purchases. WeTab/OpenPandora/PC hardware. When I buy a piece of HW I want to be able to do what I want with it. I bought a PS3 in March last year to support a company that was, as I thought at the time, supporting a new model of open and closed in a reasonably fairish way. Then on the 1st of April, they give consumers a choice, play new games, play network games, play BluRay discs and loose OtherOS. Or keep OtherOS and loose the ability to play games/BluRay released post April and have no access to play network games. They haven’t pulled the trigger on the loss of BluRay discs, but my guess is that they are waiting on one year to elapse for legal defence reasons. Worst purchase I have made in my life. No more Sony in my future purchases ever.

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