HBL running on the PS Vita, Sonic says Hi

Update: one important clarification: this video shows HBL running on the latest firmware 1.510. The firmware update that happened today does not patch the exploit, unlike what some sites are saying.

A few days ago Japanese developer Teck4 posted a picture of a “hello world” running on the PS Vita through the PSP emulator. I contacted him immediately with some help from Mamosuke, and I soon got enough information to start working on porting Half Byte Loader to this exploit (note that Teck4 is also working on exploiting this vulnerability further, but I don’t know how far he’s been).

What you see in the video below is the game “Sonic & Knuckles” running in picodrive, a Megadrive emulator for the PSP.

Yes, I’m running an emulator inside a hacked emulator on the Vita, that’s kind of cool. There’s lots to say about this ongoing work, but first let me state that, for once, this HBL port is entirely my work, except for the underlying PSP exploit which is initially from Teck4. I’ve been testing other people’s work for a while, so it was about time I got back to coding myself :)

Now that my ego is satisfied, let’s move on to the details of the video below. I have good news, bad news, and ugly news. But first check the video below, the first usable hack on the PS vita, 10 days after the console is released :)

1. THE GOOD

This is technically HBL rising from the deads, running on the PS Vita, and loading the picodrive emulator. Usually I would show you the entire loading process, but you’ll understand that some of the things I do (in particular the exploit used) need to be kept under wraps until the whole thing is made public (if it is ever made public, read more below). I hope however that given my reputation on the PSP scene this won’t be categorized as a fake, please understand that I can’t show much this time. Picodrive is one of the easiest homebrews to run on HBL for some reason, that’s why I’m using it in my test. People who’ve used HBL a lot in its early days will recognize the sound glitch, this is some 22kHz sound being played at 44kHz, or the other way around, I can never remember. That’s because the PSP emulator is using PSP’s firmware 6.60, for which HBL’s syscall estimation code seems to be a bit useless. (I am still pending some reply from Teck4 to see if it would make sense to “officially” involve more hackers on this port, and see if we can fix those syscalls problems. For now, as far as I know I’m the only one who made it that far on the Vita, and I feel kind of lonely on this new hacking scene ^^).

Another good piece of news for me is that before HBL could run Homebrews so “smoothly” on the PSP, it took us several months (I can’t remember exactly, 3 month maybe before we got it running “ok-ish” ?), while here it took me 3 days to get it to a usable state. Clearly, we didn’t lie when we said HBL would be portable to new game exploits :)

So, that’s the good, I’ve proven to myself that it is possible to run HBL and actual homebrews on the Vita. With little effort, HBL could probably be improved to some extent on that exploit, and run a few useful homebrews.

2. The bad

There are slightly bad news too. One is the syscall estimation algorithm being busted, as I explained above. I discussed a bit with JJS, and it is probable that if a function is not imported by the game itself, we might not be able to use it at all. I’ll have a closer look (if I decide to dig further on this) to see if this can be improved, but that could greatly limit the amount of homebrews that can be played on this.

Another issue is that the time currently needed to load/run homebrews for the “end user” is a bit too long to my taste. In its current state, for now I don’t think this is (or will be, even if improved) very useful for the end user. Basically, if I want to run PSP homebrews for now, it’s way easier and cheaper to do so on a PSP, even on an unhacked one, through HBL. So, the overall uselessness of this makes me wonder if it should be kept secret in order for other hackers to do some research on it, or if it should really be released. I wouldn’t like people to point fingers at me if Sony patches some  security flaws after this exploit goes public… I won’t take that decision alone (since I’m not the only one knowing the exploit), obviously, and there’s still time until the US/EU release, but I’m seriously considering the options here.

I have also yet to find a “good” way to install and run homebrews. I thought I had found a convenient way, but it didn’t work as expected. I’ll dig more on that, but it seems the PSP filesystem, as seen through the emulator on the vita, is a bit tricky and sneaky…

The ugly

There is, however, far worse than the little concerns above. What concerns me to a great extent is that I realized today that Sony can potentially spy everything we do with the content manager. Today I was forced to update my PS Vita to the new firmware. The content manager refuses to run if its PC client is not connected to the internet, and it refuses to run if the console doesn’t have the latest firmware. This means not only that Sony can force you to update your Vita firmware whenever they feel like it (something they never dared to do on the PSP or the PS3), but also that every time you copy a file from or to your Vita, some information is possibly sent to Sony’s servers. I half joked about me copying my porn movies to the Vita and Sony knowing about it, but it really concerns me that Sony is spying on the files I have on my hard drive just because I bought one of there gadgets.

I’m thinking here that the upcoming hacks for the PS Vita will involve lots of legal fights. It seems to me that unless Sony can prove they are not spying on their users, it is potentially illegal to require the tool to be connected while the content manager is running. Something as big as CarrierIQ could happen to them if their customers are willing to take it to court at some point (that’s an official call to network engineers would would like to analyze what’s going on when the content manager is connected to the internet…).

Incidentally, this is also means that Sony could be already aware of the hack and the techniques we’ve been using to trigger it, assuming they take a close look at the interactions between users’ PC and the Vita.

 

Anyways, despite these massive concerns, I’m proud to announce that I got some homebrew to run on the Vita 10 days after its release… as said before by BlackFire, it’s like “posting a sticker on a fortress”. Not very useful, but a message to Sony that we’re around :)

  1. MaxMouseDLL’s avatar

    You know all their comms to Sony will be encrypted… it would be nice to know how that works and make a fake Sony server then redirect all content to it.

    Have you taken a look at it’s comms?

    Reply

    1. wololo’s avatar

      Not at all, I focused on HBL and haven’t looked at anything Vita specific yet, including network. I know others started to investigate network communications, though :)

      Reply

  2. Skud’s avatar

    Hey wololo, I understand that you don’t want people to go blaming you if sony patches everything we try to work towards….if its a concern then we might wanna be checking out the comms for both the content manager assistant AND the 3g/wifi models….the wifi only ones can be isolated so to speak….but the 3g are just about always connected. It would be extremely beneficial to have a usb manager that doesn’t need to be connected to the net in order to load hbl on in the first place. Im looking into one of sony’s other memory cards, its for a phone but it has a usb adapter and I’ve already put it in and successfully formated it in the vita. Just throwing bricks though.

    Reply

    1. wololo’s avatar

      A nuance to that: the “airplane” mode also disconnects 3g. It’s a legal requirement for any communication device. for being “disconnected”. For now the process is to disconnect your PC, put your console in airplane mode, and use openCMA to do transfers.

      Reply

      1. Skud’s avatar

        Opencma sounds like a plan….I also love how they are using flash based media for games, but everything encrypted that comes off it seems to be in the vitas own image format. Kinda like older bin of ps1 games.

        Reply

  3. Mr. Awsome’s avatar

    Yeah, sonic says hi with bloody and red eyes and black pupils with Sega 666. Thats not a very happy hello.

    Reply

  4. brian’s avatar

    is it legal

    Reply

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