PSP's UMD format cracked

Will protection last long?

The first illegal copies of PlayStation Portable games have been uploaded to the internet by pirate group Paradox, but despite this worrying development, no means exists as yet to actually play the "ripped" games.

Copies of the Japanese versions of Capcom's Vampire Chronicle and Namco's Ridge Racers, and the US version of Sony's own WipEout Pure, were released on peer to peer file sharing networks late last week.

The games were released using the ISO9669 standard which is used for normal CDs and DVDs, and can be burned onto such media to allow access to the files used by the game - but since no burners exist for UMD, they can't be copied back onto discs that the PSP will read.

"Of course you can't play this game yet," a text file accompanying the download admits, "and you won't be playing it anytime soon on a burnt UMD disc (as Sony has already said they wont be releasing burners for these)."

The fear voiced by one PSP developer to our sister site today is that the pirates may find a way to run these games after copying them to the Memory Stick units used by the handheld.

He pointed out that Sony has taken measures against this - since although the PSP is capable of running software off the Memory Stick, it uses a different format to UMD software, and the device will only run software that has been cryptographically signed by Sony itself.

In a related development, however, a programming team has reportedly succeeded in getting the PSP to run unsigned third-party code off a Memory Stick - but this is believed to have used a loophole in the original Japanese version of the PSP's system software, which has been fixed by a more recent update. American PSPs shipped with the updated software.

The current situation regarding PSP piracy will seem very familiar to anyone who follows developments in this sector closely, as it mirrors the situation on the GameCube a few years ago. Hackers succeeded in creating pirate copies of GameCube games relatively early in the lifespan of the machine - albeit not as quickly as they have with the PSP.

However, it was some time before these games could actually be played, and even now playing pirate GameCube games is a highly involved and complex procedure which is well beyond the technical abilities of most consumers. Sony will undoubtedly be hoping that their measures to protect the PSP's software will achieve similar results for their new platform.

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