Xbox update shuts out Linux

Xbox update shuts out Linux

Summary: An automatic update for Xbox users removes a bug that allowed users to run Linux on their machines

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Microsoft is updating Internet-enabled Xbox game consoles with a software patch that blocks users from installing the Linux operating system on the machine, and also apparently deletes some files Linux users have stored on the Xbox's hard drive, according to the Xbox Linux Project.

The group also noted that some Xbox Live-enabled games appear to automatically connect to Microsoft servers, identifying the machine running the game, without the need for an Xbox Live account.

The update plugs a flaw in the Xbox Dashboard (its startup menu), which Linux enthusiasts had used to install Linux without the need for modifying the console's hardware. Ordinarily, the console will not run software that has not been approved by Microsoft.

The Xbox, and Linux users' efforts to run their software of choice on it, is seen by many as a test case for future PCs that are more tightly controlled by the vendor -- a vision embodied in Microsoft's Next-Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB) project, formerly known as Palladium. The NGSCB effort has raised concerns amongst privacy and civil liberties advocates.

The Xbox Linux Project, in an effort partly funded by Lindows founder Michael Robertson, created a version of Linux that could run on the Xbox, and devised a method using the Dashboard flaw and a bug in an Xbox game to install the operating system. The process allows the machine to continue functioning as a standard console, as well as offering the option to boot Linux. The Xbox is built of standard PC parts and runs on a stripped-down version of Windows.

The Xbox update automatically installs itself on consoles that have the ability to connect to the Internet, if a user selects the "Xbox Live" option from the Dashboard. The user needs only to enter Internet connection details, and need not have signed up for the Xbox Live service, which allows users to play networked games. Users are not asked to approve the update, as is standard for Xbox Live software updates.

Unwanted updates
The update disables the bug that allowed Linux to be installed, according to Michael Steil, one of the principal members of the Xbox Linux Project. "As soon as the Dashboard is updated, our application to disable the Xbox's anti-Linux protection (version 1.0) will not work any more," he said, adding, "we're working on a version 2.0."

He said the update also erased a directory on the Xbox's hard drive that had contained a document he created and stored using Linux. "I never allowed Microsoft alter anything on my Xbox through the Internet, and I never signed anything that contains a permission for Microsoft to do so," he wrote in an open letter to Microsoft, published on the Xbox Linux Web site. "I never allowed Microsoft to delete anything on my Xbox through an Internet connection."

Steil noted that Microsoft's actions might even be subject to penalties under Germany's anti-hacker laws.

Automatic updates are controversial, particularly where it comes to Windows, by far the dominant PC operating system. Microsoft is considering making Windows security updates automatic, but users have baulked at a broader scope for un-approved software upgrades. In some cases, software vendors have already used updates to remove functionality deemed controversial, such as an Apple iTunes update that removed certain networking capabilities.

Under the installation method used by the Xbox Linux Project, known as Mechinstaller, a set of three files are transferred to the Xbox's hard drive via an Xbox USB memory card. From a game called MechAssault, one of the files is "opened" as though it were a saved game. This installs Linux, which can then be accessed via the Dashboard.

Phoning home
Steil also noted that some Xbox games appear to connect to Microsoft servers each time they are run, without the user's knowledge, and without the need for an Xbox Live account.

Steil said that when he set up the console with his Internet settings, it automatically transmitted data including the machine's serial number to a Microsoft server. Some Xbox Live-enabled games, including the popular Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, go through a similar procedure each time they are launched, again without the need for an Xbox Live connection, he said.

Splinter Cell did not transmit the console's serial number, at least not in plain-text form, but a response from the server contained the number. This "proves that Microsoft knows about the serial, and knows what Xbox just started Splinter Cell", Steil said in a statement on the Xbox Linux site.

"Microsoft spies on Xbox gamers. All Xbox Live users, even if they don't use any 'Live' content, as well as all other users that have set up their networking correctly, are automatically registered at Microsoft with their serial number each time they start Splinter Cell (and possibly other games), without being asked," he stated.

Microsoft representatives were unable to comment for this article.

Topics: Apps, Software Development

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43 comments
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  • I am very pleased that finally media is reporting about this criminal actions by Microsoft. And as usual noone of their department is willing to give a statement. I remember that this was also the case when the dashboard bug was found.
    anonymous
  • Is it any wonder? If Microsoft made bicycles, you'd only be able to use them to cycle on one road with out additional licensing.
    anonymous
  • Bahaha. Come on people. Did you really think
    Microsoft would let this slide? It's well within
    their right to do whatever they want to there
    freaking hardware as long as it doesn't kill
    anyone.

    Get a grip German boy. Microsoft isn't breaking
    any laws. You are though.
    anonymous
  • Assuming that he is serious, Mr anonymous bahaha misses the point. Once microsoft have sold the Xbox IT IS NO LONGER MICROSOFT HARDWARE.

    To labour the bicycle analogy, if what Mr anonymous bahaha says held true, microsoft could break into my house and take my saddlebag off MY microsoft bicycle any time they liked and destroy it and all its contents.

    It is however predictable that microsoft behave in this way. Unfortunately, even though bindows is fairly useful sometimes, and I use it quite a bit, if you want to have real control over your computer don't run their software.
    anonymous
  • [Quote]
    Bahaha. Come on people. Did you really think
    Microsoft would let this slide? It's well within
    their right to do whatever they want to there
    freaking hardware as long as it doesn't kill
    anyone.
    [/Quote]
    It's not their hardware if I have bought it, any more than my car belongs to Volkswagen! If a VW dealer made modifications to my car during a service that meant I couldn't park in my drive, I'd be seriously unhappy, and call the legal team!
    [Quote]
    Get a grip German boy. Microsoft isn't breaking
    any laws. You are though.
    [/Quote]
    They are - the DPA for one. A Linux-Xbox user is not breaking any law (except perhaps the DMCA, but that is US only!)
    anonymous
  • sounds like the i-opener debate to me.

    the problem is that MS is taking a loss shipping a full fledged PC for less than $200. they hope to make this back when you buy games and sign up for service. this business model is called loss leadership, and it's how wireless phone companies can give you a free phone when you sign up for service.

    in the case of the i-opener (made by netpliance), the company changed their terms of service, then angered many of it's customers, and in the end netpliance quit making the consoles, and they sold for big bucks on ebay. to my knowlege they are no longer in business.

    so let MS do that if they want. they'll just end up hurting themselves in the end.
    anonymous
  • Microsoft just wants more control over the operating system and the hardware. If they want to invade your home and steel then let them because in the end we will all see Microsoft come to an end. They might be sewed 2 trillion dollars here soon so hope for the best. Let
    anonymous
  • Shoulda bought a PS2...

    At least Sony is willing to recognize that there is this thing called Linux out there, and you can, in fact buy a kit from Sony to turn your PS2 into a Linux workstation, complete with harddisk, keyboard, and video cable...

    We in fact decided to go for a PS2 despite it's currently inferior graphics simply because it was not M$, and I don't trust M$ as far as I could punt a certain Redmond geek..
    anonymous
  • Is not the patch a Virus ? , Are not those games trojans ??:

    Is not a Virus a piece of code that causes system missfunctions or loss of user data ??.
    And less to say system missfunctions

    I would like to know the chances of demanding Microsoft, or the people that program or design those 'Features' or those who aproved the insertion with or without the propper user alert, or whoever pay them for do that.
    anonymous
  • The Linux project (in regards to the Xbox) was owned. Can't wait to hear the 'smarter than you' crowd cry.

    Big freakin deal. So MS can tell what game you are playing. Good lord people.
    anonymous
  • That's what you get! Shouldn't be using no nasty Microshaft Xbox anyway! If you wanna run GNU/Linux, do so on yer 'puter or better still, Playstation 2 has a Linux developer kit. Better still....ROLL YER OWN! VIA EPIA....Solar PC? Xbox...BAH!
    anonymous
  • In reponse to LinuxSucks comment.. Uhhh, what? It seems like you are just mad that some Linux zealot punk kid knows more then you.. In all honesty, who cares.. The point of the article is yet again about losing a choice when using a MS product. Being strongarmed once more by the weak star trek nerd types that seem to work at Microsoft. They seem to hire the a-typical 80's steryiotype computer geeks, which are more focused on girls they will never get, then code they can't write. Not to bash MS or anything, they do have a lot of good people that work there, but definitely not the run of the mill talent I've seen from many other companies. You can hate linux all you want.. You probably have your reasons, perhaps you can't figure out how GNOME or KDE work. *snicker*. I find more often then not, the one person that says it's sucks, does so for the reason being that they are too stupid to be able to use it themselves, or are jealous at someone else that can use it better. Which category do you fall under? I'll bet if you had a girlfriend, you'd be jealous of every guy she worked with, and hated them too wouldn't you? Grow up. Buy a vowel, and fsck off.
    anonymous
  • If you ever get this update you can always format the HD.
    anonymous
  • Anonymous Gamer:

    You are obviously a loser M$ clone who has no
    clue about anything, especially when it comes to
    legal issues. M$ has no right what-so-ever to do
    anything to your "purchased" hardware. Nothing
    illegal was done by the Linux users. They used
    FLAW to manipulate the XBox to do what they
    wanted it to do. If it were illegal then where are
    all the lawsuits from M$ against the Xbox Linux
    Project!? Would you allow M$ to change any of
    the settings on your PC that would disable some
    functionality of your games that you yourself
    deemed necessary in order to play but they did
    not? No one is pirating or stealing anything here.
    They are just using their hardware that they paid
    for in the manner that they wish to use it. Seems
    to me you are too lame to do any of this so you
    just sit on the sidelines as a complete moron and
    do nothing else but talk out your ass. Grow up
    and learn before you speak in public and people
    might actually believe you are intelligent!
    anonymous
  • P.S.

    For those of that seem to think they have to bash
    Linux in order to prove they have a bigger penis,
    grow up. M$ does NOT own the world and they
    are not allowed to write their own laws. Because
    you are too lame or lazy (both!?) to run Linux does
    not make it an inferior OS. It is far superior to any
    of the M$ OS's. I'll admit that there are some things
    that need to be fixed (M$ OS's are perfect!?) but
    at least there are thousands of people that work
    on it all the time for the better of all (including your
    lazy ass if you decide to actually try Linux). Quit
    believing everything that you read from M$... they
    are not *your* friend! And don't bash something
    that you are totally clueless about because no
    one cares that you are so ignorant. The World
    will go on without you, np!
    anonymous
  • To reply to several previous posts:

    Regarding the Volkswagon metaphor, sure it's yours once you own it, but you STILL have to abide by the laws of the road - you cannot choose to drive it at 200km per hour or run red lights and expect to get away with it.

    Taking the example of the house being broken into, sure, that's wrong, but if you buy a house and start building decks and garages and making modifications to it without a permit to add those things to your property, you deserve to get nailed...same thing applies here.

    The bottom line is that you can't just go around installing whatever takes your fancy on the Xbox and expect to get away with it. Go read your Terms of Use that you agreed to when you bought it...its all there in black and white. Its not meant to be modified! Its a bloody game console!

    Here's a wild concept for you: try being honest and using it for what it was made for: playing original, unburnt Xbox games and DVD's. If you're too cheap to buy games and to save your Linux tinkering for your PC's, then you don't deserve to own an Xbox.

    The audacity of people who complain about MS trying to defend their products amazes me...its like a thief trying to later sue someone who beats them as they rob someone's house....which has been done successfully, astoundingly enough....come on people!?

    What a world we live in...



    [Quote]
    Get a grip German boy. Microsoft isn't breaking
    any laws. You are though.
    [/Quote]
    They are - the DPA for one. A Linux-Xbox user is not breaking any law (except perhaps the DMCA, but that is US only!)
    anonymous
  • The question is, whose freakin hardware is it? I don't have an xbox, but if I did, I'd be pissed off to find out that MS were deleting files I'd put on the computer that I'd bought without asking me.
    anonymous
  • To the contrairy, Mr. Anon GAY-mer.
    M$ has the right to update SOFTWARE, not to update MY hardware, that i paid MY hard earned $ for. That is tantimount to saying, if I sold you a harddrive & you put it into your machine, I could then (using anymeans @ my diposal) enter that unit & modify it as I see fit. If I don't like what you have I could delete it or replace your enitre NIN collection with Debbie boone mp3's.
    This is what micronazi's are doing to us xbox owners who want to do nothing but expand the usage of THEIR OWN hardware (NOT M$'s Hardware). The EULA is for software NOT hardware, READ IT! (I did.) The software I use IS NOT THERES , it was produced by men & women who have a passion for anything digital, not just by a group of pirates or script kiddies who want to play games they have DLd from Kaakrap.
    I want to be able to stream audio/video to my TV using MY hardware, I want to be able to check my email or surf the web in the comfort of my Foofchair.
    Waht If M$ didn't like the site you goto on your COMPUTER, & decided that they wouldnt let you anymore by patching windows (without your concent) to block those sites (or software for that matter).
    This HOLLYWOOD contrived idea of what a hacker is is bullshit. we do not all harm people or their computers. The guys that found the RCM exploit, reported it to M$. M$ did nothing puplicly UNTIL they released the code on the net. Which they did to force M$ grubby little hand on the issue (which if you know anything about, is a GAPPING hole).

    LET ME & MY HARDWARE BE. WE AIN'T HURTING NOBODY!
    anonymous
  • I understand MS is all about the almighty dollar and bottom line. I do not like the idea of automatic updates. I can see everyone getting automatically screwed as soon as they log onto the net. If this happened and a mass exodus of people stopped using microsoft products, then the dollar signs in their eyes might get their heads to change their minds. In spite of all this most people seem content to keep giving all the control and power to MS. It seems logical that if they controlled all software and hardware that it would be great for their bottom line. I'm afraid that customers are of no concern to MS if we don't leave or hurt their profits. I believe customers and people in general should be able to have a choice to opt out of automatic updates.
    anonymous
  • Microsoft sell the Xbox at a very discounted price. A few souls out there think this is just a normal industry practice, sell cheap and make money on games. As far as I know Microsoft has not made any money yet on either the games or the consoles.

    Microsoft's goal then is probably not selling consoles cheap and making money on games but to undercut the competition, they have wads of cash to through away after all. After they control the games market they can inflate the price of their games in much the same way they have their OS and applications.

    1. Microsoft can't stand competition.
    2. The Xbox is not that great a computer but it is cheap.
    3. Microsoft really needs mind share. Their OS really works well on only a couple of platforms. Linux really work well on nearly everything, (including Xbox). They know that in the Linux world gaming is still new, they can't afford to lose this area to Linux. They can't they can't they can't, this is one of their last hope$.
    4. They are going to be as nasty to Linux as they can, public relations of course being considered.
    5. I think they are real dopes if they think they can use an open industry standard for their game consoles and then plan on people hacking them.
    anonymous