technology!

I didn’t watch the iPad announcement. Having read this and this — which I think you should read, too! — it sounds like it was incredibly disappointing.  Between my laptop, netbook and iPhone, the thing that I wish I could do but can’t is read digital content while I’m sitting outside in the sun.  To me the only thing that’s interesting about this device is the psychotic level of interest in its announcement that was on display, even by people from whom I wouldn’t normally expect it.  I’m increasingly convinced that the enthusiasms that make up geek culture (to the extent that such a thing exists) are part of a larger, communicable pathology that an ever-growing segment of the population is becoming susceptible to — and not just because it’s fashionable.

Anyway! Of today’s tech news, I thought that the PS3’s hypervisor getting cracked was much more interesting than the iPad.  Not really in an applied way — you can already boot Linux on the thing (props to Sony for that), so you’ve gotta suspect that piracy is the primary aim of these efforts, which is a bit boring (especially since I don’t plan to buy a PS3). But the technical details are just neat.  The linked account gives a good rundown, but maybe I can explain why they’re neat.

In the case of the PS1, Xbox and Xbox360, circumventi0n* techniques were clever but essentially reflective of failures of security design. By contrast, the engineering of the PS3’s protection still looks logically bulletproof.  The approach used by geohotz — who also has done good work opening the iPhone, incidentally — was to introduce a bunch of very tiny brown-outs into the system, screwing up the progress of the security-related things that it finds itself doing from time to time.  There’s more to it than that, of course: he needed to use what access to the system he was allowed to establish conditions such that when something went wrong, it was likely to go wrong in a way that was advantageous to him.  As you might imagine, this is a considerably trickier thing than just pulling the plug until the power LED is half-faded (though using an FPGA sounds like overkill to me).

But still!  More than the specific technical prowess involved, this speaks to the incredible difficulty of securing a system over which you can’t assert physical control (especially if that system runs too hot to just encase its vulnerable parts in a blob of epoxy).  In that respect it’s kind of like freezing RAM to make it preserve its contents long enough to extract them (something done at the program Tim‘s attending, I should note).

* This is a completely providential typo. I have no idea how it happened, but I’m sure as hell not fixing it.

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