XBox 360: A harbinger of the PC lockdown to come?

Summary:According to Engadget, the Free60 project has developed a list of barriers to hacking Linux onto Microsoft's XBox 360s that reads like an art thief's list of obstacles to stealing the Mona Lisa.  At first glance, a story about how the XBox could be hackproof may appear to you to be irrelevant if you're reading this blog (Between the Lines, "The blog for discriminating IT buyers").

According to Engadget, the Free60 project has developed a list of barriers to hacking Linux onto Microsoft's XBox 360s that reads like an art thief's list of obstacles to stealing the Mona Lisa.  At first glance, a story about how the XBox could be hackproof may appear to you to be irrelevant if you're reading this blog (Between the Lines, "The blog for discriminating IT buyers").  But when I read the list, I noticed how reminiscent the architecture is of the PC of the future (I know seems like an oxymoron, but this really is back to future stuff).

The list includes a unique, virtually hackproof security key for every XBox (reminiscent of the Trusted Platform Modules [TPMs] that are coming to future PCs), and a virtual machine architecture for authenticating legitimate kernels that really rings a bell with Intel's Vanderpool virtualization technology and the techniques that Apple will reportedly be using to make sure that the Intel-based systems it will be selling won't run anything but OS X and that OS X won't run on just any Intel-based system. Not surprisingly, those techniques, if used, will most likely involve some form of digital restrictions management (DRM) technology.  Although Microsoft has, with its Windows Product Activation technology, shown the resolve to marry specific OS licenses to specific systems, the company hasn't said whether or not it intends to take advantage of TPMs for similar purposes in future versions of Windows (including Windows Vista).  Are the lengths to which Microsoft is going to lock down its XBox 360s a harbinger of PCs to come? Here's the list from Engadget's coverage:

  • The flash is encrypted with a per-box key
  • The key is stored inside the CPU
  • The boot ROM is stored inside the CPU
  • Also inside the CPU is a hypervisor that verifies the running state of the kernel, making sure there is no modification (RAM checksums), else the Xbox 360 panics and blows up!
  • The CPU contains RAM inside of it to store the checksums
  • All interrupt/exception handling is done by the hypervisor
  • All code runs in kernel mode
  • The emulator for first generation games can be updated via an official Microsoft download burned to CD by the user, though the CDs’ content will be encrypted and signed with public key cryptography. The boot ROM is stored inside the CPU.

Topics: Virtualization

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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