Disclaimer from Wololo: for some reason this article has generated more controversy than it should have, with in particular established hackers in the Vita scene voicing their doubts that the Vita has the power to emulate the PS2. This is a reminder that opinions expressed by the bloggers on this site are their own. The article below contains AcideSnake’s opinions on some aspects of the Vita scene, and although I don’t necessarily agree with everything Acid has to say, I still find this article a great read. Please use your own judgement when reading.
Console hacking is not an easy task and it isn’t achieved overnight. This is something you hear quite a lot in every scene and forum, and you hear it a lot from developers themselves. There is a reason why developers “hold back” exploits, hacks and tools, and it’s not because they are “feeding their ego” and “taunting” users – there’s a war going on between console manufacturers and hackers so strategy has an important role.
Having an entry point allows you to find more entry points
The first time we all heard from The Flow was back in the PSP days and firmware 6.20; known to be unhackable at the time, Total_Noob (as he was then called) suddenly showcased a video of him running a kernel exploit that allowed him to launch pretty much any homebrew, emulator and, eventually, ISO for the console on Sony’s latest firmware. I remember back then how every day I was looking up his blog to read about his progress on the upcoming 6.20 HEN that would finally liberate my PSP. It took him a few months but it felt like ages. It was easy for me – as a regular user with little to no knowledge of computer science – to think he was being a d*ck for not releasing earlier and making us mere mortals wait for his holly grail of PSP hacks. I was SOOOOOO wrong, and here’s why.
Soon after the release of Total_Noob’s 6.20 HEN, a hellbunch of other tools started showing up; ISO loaders, CFW for 6.20, an unofficial port of 6.20 HEN to 6.3X firmwares, and most important of all; the 6.20 permapatch and 6.60 Kernel exploit(s). All of this was possible thanks to TN’s initial 6.20 entry point; it allowed other hackers to dig deeper into the system and find other flaws. And TN’s 6.20 HEN was in itself based off the great work done by M0skit0, Wololo, wth, JSS and others who made usermode exploits a useful reality (HBL!). I can keep going back on the history of hacking the PSP and PS Vita, but truth be told: having an entry point (as little as it may be) will allow you to find more (and better) entry points.
There is only one known PS Vita User and Kernel exploit (for now)
Unless some other developer suddenly proves us wrong, we only have knowledge of The Flow’s 3.68 Exploits (which are two by the way; one in usermode, one in kernelmode). As we all know very well, you need a user exploit first to then trigger the kernel exploit. The kernel exploit is available to anyone (it is an exploit in the firmware itself shipped with every Vita), but user exploits are a whole different thing; they don’t exist in the Vita’s OS, they reside in an application or game that runs on the Vita. So far we have seen exploits in the Mail App (that allowed us to arbitrarily write files to the memcard) and the Web Browser. However, user exploits are easily patchable with new firmware updates, and take into consideration exploits in games and other apps are not bundled with every Vita so if you are unlucky enough to not grab the “golden game” with the exploit you will be unable to run the kernel exploit, even if your Vita does have such kernel exploit available. We need more user exploits available to more users before the kernel exploit is released.
VHBL and ARK are still a thing
Over the years hackers have come up with more clever and better ways to hack our consoles. Focusing on the PSP and PS Vita we have the Infinity permapath for 6.61 by Davee, the Enso bootloader exploit by Team Molecule, and the custom PSP bubbles (researched by many developers). Loading PSP homebrews and emulator is possible on latest firmware with VHBL thanks to that. While Enso has been patched, some hacks like the Infinity permapatch and custom PSP bubbles remains unpatchable; mostly due to how clever they are, requiring Sony to do mayor changes to the console software/hardware itself and/or the games, thus making it hard for them to engineer a working solution, and Sony doesn’t seem to care about updating their portable consoles.
Among these “unpatchable” exploits we still have some remains from the days of OILIX Hacks. For those of you who don’t remember, OILIX was a Team formed mainly by qwikrazor87 and Acid_Snake (myself), with collaboration from other scene veterans such as Total_Noob/The Flow. It was thanks to that team that we were able to play PSX games with full sound on our PS Vita for the first time, as well as 40+ PSP usermode exploits and 7+ PSP kernel exploits, and some of them are still available to us. For the meantime it is still more theory than practice, but PSP and PSX bubble loaders should be (and most likely will be) a reality. With all the PSX and PSP catalogue at your disposal (including all the homebrews and emulators we have for the PSP), there really is no need for a native hack right now, we need to go baby steps. Besides, because there is a smaller number of native homebrews for the PS Vita than there used to be for, say, the PSP*, there’s a fear the native kernel exploit will be used for piracy.
There is still a lot of life left in the Vita (and a lot to learn from it)
You might not believe me, but the PS Vita is powerful enough to emulate the PS2, at least with a compatibility similar to, or even better than, a non-BC PS3. It just requires knowing a lot about its architecture, both Software and Hardware, and a lot of hard work. Sony knows this, but they never did it (another proof of them leaving the console behind). Native hacks have been around for over a year now, there’s not enough developers and there’s not enough knowledge about the system. You might think that if a native kernel exploit is released for latest firmware it will somehow attract more attention to other hackers, but this isn’t what happens. If the exploit is released, Sony will patch it and developers (both old and new) will have a harder time attacking latest firmware. Hackers don’t have to publicly share their code to have other hackers on board, they can secretly communicate information without posing a threat of leaks or patches by Sony. It is important for us right now to allow hackers to dwell into our devices as much as they can and for as long as possible, this allows exploits and hacks to be better and bigger. Releasing all the work done right now will throw it all to the garbage.
Enjoy your device and all it has to offer (for now)
The PS Vita is a wonderful console, the best portable PlayStation experience you can get (and the best portable experience overall IMHO). The console itself is cheap, the games (both physical and online) are cheap, and VHBL offers a huge amount of extra entertainment with no piracy involved (unless you count emulators and ROMs). Let hackers do their job of happily working on their code and their tools while you enjoy whatever has been released for now. Remember that the more time it takes for hackers to release something, the better that “something” will be.
* Note from Wololo: a section of the article was reworded which initially stated “there are no homebrews for the Vita”. This was meant to be an emphasis, and the goal here was not to insult any Vita homebrew developer. Both Acid_Snake and myself are heavily invested coders in the hacking scene (even if, at least for me, this was ages ago) so we’re on the same side, folks. Nevertheless, people didn’t fail to remind us that there is actually a large library of Vita homebrews, many of which can for example be found on the VitaDB here. Apologies to all developers who have taken this poor choice of words the hard way, this was not intentional.