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Following hardware exploit, Nintendo bans Switch consoles with pirated games

After a hardware exploit for the Nintendo Switch was noticed back in April, a hacker warns against individuals pirating games by pointing out how Nintendo cracks down on illegal downloads.

Game Developer

June 20, 2018

2 Min Read

An unpatchable hardware exploit noticed back in April allowed for hackers to gain deep system access for the Nintendo Switch, leading to concerns over piracy of copyrighted games on the console.

However, Reddit user and hacker SciresM warns against individuals pirating games, pointing out how Nintendo cracks down on illegal downloads by permanently banning consoles with pirated software from Nintendo's network.

The post provides a detailed breakdown of the protections Nintendo has in place to detect systems playing pirated games online. For starters, Nintendo assigns every Switch game card (the physical cartridge a game is stored in) with a unique key. 

If that the game card is dumped (which hackers can accomplish with custom firmware very easily) and that copy is used online, Nintendo will ban it and prevent the game card from being used online again, which has lead to the fear over purchasing pre-owned games. 

As for downloadable games, an encrypted ticket inside the game data combines information about the game with the console's unique Device ID and the Nintendo Account ID used to purchase it. If a player downloads a pirated game that was purchased on a different console or account, Nintendo can detect the mismatch and immediately ban the console from its network.

“This solves the 3DS-era issue of game card header data being shared between games,” writes SciresM. “Additionally, there’s a fair amount of other, unknown (encrypted) data in a certificate being uploaded and certificates are also linked to Nintendo Accounts when gold points are redeemed. Sharing of certificates should be fairly detectable, for Nintendo.”

Users who pirate games can’t have well-signed tickets for their consoles, which means they can’t go online without receiving an immediate ban.

“Tickets cannot be forged, and Nintendo can verify that the device ID in the ticket matches the device ID for the client cert connecting (banning on a mismatch), as well as that the account ID for the ticket matches the Nintendo Account authorizing to log in." 

There isn't a way around these bans either, as this seems to be Nintendo's response over the unpatchable hardware exploits found in Switch consoles already sold. SciresM praises the company and its current anti-pirating measures, citing that they're “extremely strong." 

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