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Hacking the PlayStation Portable

Hoping to topple Nintendo from its decade-long leadership in the handheld gaming market, Sony this spring released the PlayStation Portable (PSP). Ironically, it may give Nintendo stiff com-petition, not because of its wide-ranging built-in applications, but because of its many security flaws. Hackers have exploited these loopholes to install a variety of unauthorized applications on their PSPs, from Web browsers to TiVo viewers, making the device more versatile than Nintendo’s game-oriented DS.

Out of the box, the PSP is already more than a game player. It has MP3, movie playback, and photo-viewing capabilities. But even these features aren’t enough for a subculture of frenzied gadgeteers. Hackers have widely distributed detailed online instructions that show how to crack the PSP’s encryption by punching in codes using the PSP’s buttons. The instructions are easy to follow and complete with how-to visuals. Using the PSP’s wireless connection, users can then download software for RSS feed reading, PSPcasting, and many other applications. To close these loopholes, Sony has developed security patches that are included in its new game software and install themselves automatically when a user loads a game. But this is only encouraging hackers to find new holes.

The PSP’s security weaknesses may have contributed to its phenomenal success. It sold 500,000 units within the first two days of its March release and twice that in its first six weeks. Nintendo’s new Game Boy Micro and improved DS come out later this year, but their sales may suffer, since they don’t offer the multimedia options and innate hackability of the PSP, making them attractive only to gamers. After dominating living rooms for more than a decade, Sony is poised to take over backpacks as well as briefcases. The PSP is available for $249.

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