Leaders of ‘notorious’ Team Xecuter game piracy, homebrew group arrested

US prosecutors allege the team spearheaded the sale of devices for hacking popular consoles.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Two alleged leaders of the Team Xecuter game piracy group, known for selling methods to hack and homebrew consoles, have been arrested.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) said on Friday that Max Louarn and Gary Bowser were arrested abroad. Bowser, a Canadian national, was deported from the Dominican Republic, and extradition is being sought for Louarn, a French national, to stand trial in the US. 

Chinese national Yuanning Chen, another alleged member of the group, has also been charged. Charges have been filed in the US District Court in Seattle.

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Team Xecuter is known for developing devices and software designed to hack Nintendo consoles, including the Switch and 3DS. 

There is a long-standing community of hackers and gaming enthusiasts focused on jailbreaking consoles -- such as Nintendo handhelds, the PSX, and PS Vita -- and this usually requires the active exploit of vulnerabilities via software. When a console is hacked in this way, users may load emulators and ROMs from various consoles, and they may also load pirated games, circumventing the need to pay for titles. 

Team Xecuter offered the SX Pro dongle for boosting a homebrew OS, for example, as well as licenses to use the custom firmware.

From 2013 to August 2020, Team Xecuter continually changed up its device names, using brands such as Gateway 3DS, the Stargate, the TrueBlue Mini, and the SX line, including the OS, Pro, Lite, and Core. Websites including Axiogame.com and Maxconsole.com were also used as sales channels. 

The DoJ's indictment claims that while the group publicly said they were catering to gaming enthusiasts and budding game developers, "the overwhelming demand and use for the enterprise's devices was to play pirated videogames."

"To support this illegal activity, Team Xecuter allegedly helped create and support online libraries of pirated videogames for its customers, and several of the enterprise's devices came preloaded with numerous pirated videogames," prosecutors say. "Team Xecuter was so brazen that it even required customers to purchase a "license" to unlock the full features of its custom firmware, the SX OS, in order to enable the ability to play pirated videogames."

US prosecutors claim that there are over a dozen active members of the "notorious" group, including vulnerability hunters, website designers, manufacturers of the hacking devices, and resellers. 

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At the time of writing, the Team Xecuter website's shop and blog are unavailable. 

The trio is being charged with 11 felony counts, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, trafficking in circumvention devices, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. 

Nintendo is well aware of the group's existence, having previously taken Uberchips to court for apparently reselling Team Xecuter products. As reported by the BBC last week, the gaming giant won its suit, claiming $2 million in damages and forcing Uberchips to hand over its domain name and destroy any remaining stock. 

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Nintendo is currently pursuing eight other operators for selling Team Xecuter tools. 

"Imagine if something you invented was stolen from you and then marketed and sold to customers around the world. That is exactly what Team Xecuter was doing," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Raymond Duda. "This is a perfect example of why the FBI has made the prevention of the theft of intellectual property a priority. These arrests should send a message to would-be pirates that the FBI does not consider these crimes to be a game."

The case is being investigated by the FBI and Homeland Security. 

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