Copyright © 2002, Situation Publishing. All Rights Reserved.
Microsoft's campaign against Xbox mod chips has ratcheted up a notch with the launch of the Xbox Live online gaming service. According to a posting at Got Mod?, (there's a site that's going to be pretty concerned about the issue) the company is attempting to detect mod chips when users connect, then placing them on a banned list - forever.
If this really is the case then it means we're already seeing how unique hardware IDs could be used in anger by certain companies. Because it's the unique ID of the Xbox that's claimed to go onto the banned list.
The Got Mod? poster says that after persistent connectivity problems (which we hear exist for people who don't have mod chips fitted too) he called up the support line and confessed to a rep that he'd modded his Xbox. The rep seems to have been equally upfront; he said he'd been issued with an 'idiot sheet' (these exist in practically all front line support callcentres) intended to deal with questions in this area.
He explained that the mod chip is detected when you connect to Xbox Live, and that your machine's ID is then read, and added to a banned list. Even if you remove the mod chip, he said, your machine cannot be unbanned, as it's Microsoft's belief that it can never be seen as trustworthy again.
Which is actually reasonable, if you were to start from Microsoft's premise that banning mod chips is reasonable. An earlier posting at Got Mod? suggests that it's possible to run a mod chip provided it's one that can be switched off, and provided of course that you remember to switch it off before you connect. So if you're the sort of person who mods, then no doubt you'd be the sort of person who'd move to modding with a switch, if you heard that worked.
This posting also includes information that can be viewed as a cautionary tale about the evils of automatic online updates. On initial connect to Xbox Live an update is downloaded, and this includes the software that detects the mod chip. Note also that the posting claims frequent connect failures for machines that haven't been chipped as well.
It's not at this point clear whether these failures are in any way collateral damage of an anti mod chip campaign. The Microsoft rep, however, said that the company's actions weren't being taken because of piracy; the primary concern is to "sell a 'fair' service to normal people." If people use mod chips to cheat, then ordinary people will be less likely to sign up.
Which again is fair enough, although it additionally provides an alibi for control-freakery, and could come in handy for DVD (and other) regionalisation purposes. But, erm, isn't there a problem with systems of this sort? Skipping whether or not Microsoft is really casting Xbox units into outer darkness forever, we'll go hypothetical for the moment.
Imagine such a piece of cheap and readily-available consumer hardware exists, and imagine you're an evil modder who's fitted a chip and consequently got it banned forever. Imagine you're a particularly evil modder who then sneakily sells it through the local paper. So what about the sucker who bought it from you?
That sucker's comeback is probably against you rather than the original vendor, because you'll have voided the warranty by opening it. You probably don't care because you're particularly evil and he can't find you, but once this gets around it'll sure as hell knock the stuffing out of the second hand market, won't it? Which would probably be convenient for the original vendor.
If you broaden this out a tad, more towards Palladium territory, you still have unique IDs on trusted machines, but in this case Microsoft expects that some Palladium machines will be sold on, and therefore there will be a necessity for zeroing trusted status to that which obtained when you first took it out of the box. Why Palladium and not Xbox? Palladium is intended to be fairly proof against hardware attacks, whereas Xbox isn't. Would you want to mod chip a PC anyway? No, because it's a fairly open box.
But, erm, if it's got a unique ID maybe it's not open after all, in which case maybe you would want to mod it. Well, yes, but by Palladium time that's going to be a lot harder, for sure.