Nintendo is no stranger to hackers finding exploits in its system, but for the very first time it appears that they’ve uncovered one that Nintendo can’t patch.
Two very similar exploits have been discovered, both of which take advantage of a security weakness in the Nvidia Tegra X1 processor. It’s because the exploit is at the hardware level that Nintendo can’t fix it permanently with a simple patch – it’ll take revising the actual processor to solve this problem.
As a result, homebrew code can now be used on every Nintendo Switch and we’re already seeing console supporting Linux with full touch controls.
The exploits have come from fail0verflow (opens in new tab) and Kate Temkin and both sources have documented their methods. Fail0verflow expressed some wariness towards revealing vulnerabilities like this “for fear of them being used primarily for piracy rather than homebrew.”
However, they added that the bug is “so obvious that multiple people have independently discovered it by now.” Knowing that the bug will be made public sooner rather than later, fail0verflow decided to release their hack “to make it very clear that we do this for fun and homebrew, and nothing else.“
While we’ve seen relatively harmless implementations of the Linux OS, the main concern here is, of course, that the exploit will eventually be used to run pirated software, posing problems for Nintendo’s Online service before it even launches.
According to those behind the discovery, Google, Nintendo and Nvidia were made aware of the issue 90 days ago via Google’s responsible disclosure process. Nintendo’s knowledge of this weakness in its console could go some way towards explaining the rumors that there’s another version of the Nintendo Switch in the works with a newer (presumably bug-free) processor from Nvidia.
In the meantime, it seems that Nintendo’s main option is to start looking for software-based deterrents to these hacks, whether that’s to detect and lock hacked systems or make altering the OS impossible to go back on and therefore a significant risk.
Even before Nintendo gets involved, there are already significant risks to hacking your Nintendo Switch and fail0verflow sums them up pretty well:
“If your Switch catches fire or turns into an Ouya, it's not our fault. It's stupidly easy to blow up embedded platforms like this with bad software (e.g. all voltages are software-controlled). We already caused temporary damage to one LCD panel with bad power sequencing code. Seriously, do not complain if something goes wrong.”