November 12, 2004 4:00 AM PST

Is Microsoft using 'Halo 2' to thwart Xbox hackers?

Microsoft appears to be using its smash "Halo 2" game as a vehicle to crack down on mod chips and other hacks of its Xbox video game console.

Hundreds of Xbox owners have reported in online forums in recent days that they were banned from Xbox Live, Microsoft's online gaming service, after trying to play "Halo 2" online with a modified console.


What's new:
Xbox Live users say they've been banned from their boxes after trying to play "Halo 2" on modified consoles.

Bottom line:
Console makers have long used any means available to thwart illegal copying of games. Critics say a modded Xbox can yield online cheating that ruins the gaming experience for paying customers.

More stories on Xbox hacking

A Microsoft representative would not specify which additional security measures, if any, have been added to Xbox Live around the "Halo 2" launch. "Microsoft listens carefully to the Xbox Live community and reserves the right to take steps necessary to preserve the integrity of the user experience," the representative said in a statement. "Our goal is to provide our users with secure, consistent and fair online game play. Users are not permitted to manipulate the system to the detriment of others."

"Mod chips," gray-market add-ons that allow game consoles to run imported discs, pirated games and homemade software, began circulating for the Xbox shortly after the game machine went on sale four years ago. Hackers who equip their Xboxes with mod chips and other upgrades, such as bigger hard drives, have gotten the consoles to perform all sorts of unauthorized tricks, including running Linux software and serving as digital media centers.

Microsoft and other hardware makers have long fought against mod chips, chiefly because those chips abet game piracy. The software giant's activities culminated in a Justice Department raid two years ago in which federal lawmakers took over a Web site used to sell mod chips and swap illegally copied games.

Billy Pidgeon, an analyst for research firm Zelos Group, said console makers have long used any means available to them to thwart mod chips and halt illegal copying of games. The advent of online gaming for consoles has raised the stakes, he said.

"They're worried not just about enabling casual piracy but also about cheating," Pidgeon said. "A modded Xbox can allow all sorts of new avenues for cheating online and ruining the experience for paying customers. I would argue that Xbox Live is a great experience for the end user precisely because it's a closed, controlled environment, and anything that threatens that is a real concern for Microsoft."

As first reported by CNET, Microsoft has also used Xbox Live since its inception to crack down on mod chips and other hacks. The Xbox Live user agreement states that "Xbox Live may only be accessed with an unmodified, except for Microsoft-authorized repairs and upgrades, Xbox video game console. Any attempt to disassemble, decompile, create derivative works of, reverse engineer, modify, further sublicense, distribute or use for other purposes either the hardware or software of this system, is strictly prohibited and may result in termination of your account and/or your ability to access Xbox Live."

The agreement further gives Microsoft authority to "retrieve information from the Xbox used to log onto Xbox Live as necessary to operate and protect the security of Xbox Live and to enforce this agreement."

Initial Xbox Live antihacker measures focused on checking a

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F microsoft
First of all who would subscribe to play a game that you already paid for. Second of all, If I paid for my xbox ITS MINE. Not microsofts to say what I can and can't do with MY hardware. They need to nip this "intellectual property" crap right in the bud. I will not buy halo 2. I will wait until an emulator comes out for the PC and then I will download it. as i said above F microsoft.
Posted by (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's your Xbox, but it's their service.
Sure it's your Xbox, and you're free to do whatever you want with it. That's why MS hasn't sent cops to your house.

But MS owns and operates the Xbox Live service. They have the right to choose who gets access to the service, and if they don't want you on the service for whatever reason, they have the right to ban you.

Childish whining on a website is not going to win you any supporters, especially not at MS.
Posted by UnnDunn (55 comments )
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User agreement states
Xbox Live may only be accessed with an unmodified, except for Microsoft-authorized repairs and upgrades, Xbox video game console. Any attempt to disassemble, decompile, create derivative works of, reverse engineer, modify, further sublicense, distribute or use for other purposes either the hardware or software of this system, is strictly prohibited and may result in termination of your account and/or your ability to access Xbox Live."
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
I'm really glad that stupid comments like your's are made because users like you are giving the legal modified community a bad rep. If you mod your box and you get banned, wasn't that what was expected in the first place? Don't mod it if you don't want to get caught...
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft's ban of modded xboxes to xbox live has been around for over a year now. In fact, most modchip dealers will tell you this on their site.

People who use modded xboxes can still play online using a free tunneling program such as XBConnect. Gamespy arcade also has a tunneling program avalible for free.
These programs allow you "extend" your systemlink game across the internet to other players. They work for any xbox, modded or unmodded.

There is also a second solution that has been avalible for quite some time now. With this method you also install a switch in the front of the xbox, that will allow you to switch between the modchip and the regular bios.
This method requires alot more soldering, effort and time than a regular modchip would, but it has the best result.

Cnet, if you are going to compile a report, please be balanced (and timely).
Posted by eviltoaster (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Seems that the only people complaining are likely the same people that cheat at games.
There are those that hack the xbox for the hobby-tweaking, trying OS loads, cool features that may one day come to Xbox Next or #3. But the rest are trying for an edge or loading larger HDs with copies of games they never bought. Good for Microsoft and those that PAY for Live. (never thought I'd be cheering for the Big M$)
Either have two Xboxes (one to tweak), add the forementioned switch or don't play Live. If you plan to have an "edge", do it legit. Or not at all.
Posted by Below Meigh (249 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Get a real life....
.... then you'll see how useless Halo 2, live or not, really is.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Get Real
Performance enhancers are illegal in all sports. What you do with YOUR Xbox is your business. However, when you come online, you affect all of us. All of the other Xbox Live users deserve, expect and are paying for a level playing field.

You whine like you are being mistreated, but anyone playing with a cheater using a hacked Xbox are the ones being mistreated.
Posted by Xbox_Live_Fan (5 comments )
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The fact: there was & there are NO modded xbox on Live!
Since long ago it has not been possible to use a modded Xbox on Xbox Live with the mod-chip enabled. Players on Xbox Live are PAYING their subscriptions, are PURCHASSING their games and are TURNING OFF their mod-chip or else an automatic ban will result. Two days ago MS has only improved their detection mecanism to the point were they can now detect a modded console even though the mod-chip is turned off.
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
Pfft... I find that your argument is basically moot. Many modified xboxes don't contain "performance enhancers" to gameplay or any such things. Don't give into the propoganda. And if you don't believe me, run tests on your xbox versus someone with a hacked xbox. You will see almost no difference.
Posted by (2 comments )
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The facts about mod-chip and Xbox Live!
First of all the facts about mod-chips: Most chips have the ability to be turned on or off. From day one on Xbox Live (XBL), consoles with a mod-chip enabled were AUTOMATICALLY BANNED and the golden rule for using XBL was to always turn off the mod-chip before using the XBL service. The result of this mod-chip detection was that if you wanted to use XBL you HAD to purchase the games and run them on the console with the mod-chip deactivated. In my opinion this was fair enough.

But now, with the latest upgrade to the XBL service rolled out with the Halo 2 release, Microsoft is going even further in their detection mechanism and is now able to identify modified consoles even when their mod-chips turned off.

I believe Microsoft is now going way too far with this. All users of the XBL service are paying their subscriptions AND purchasing their games - remember that from day one it has not been possible to use a mod-chip while on XBL which means no game piracy while on XBL. This is pure and simple repression for simply having a modified console even though it was not possible to use the modifications while on XBL, for which membership is paid and games are bought.

Has anyone ever been banned from using their car because they tuned and chipped their engine? Warranty is voided - fair enough. When was the last time a GSM mobile network banned their users for using an "unlocked" phone? When was the last time a PC manufacturer banned customers because they heavily modified their PCs. Has Cisco/Linksys banned their customers for installing modified/hacked/improved versions of their WRT54G wireless router firmware?

I think Microsoft is going way too far and violates basic console owners privacy rights by further introspecting their console while on XBL, regardless of the click-wrapped licenses nonsense that anyone never read anyways.

One of the possible result is that "parallel/alternative" XBL (free & legal) services (like XBConnect & Xlink) will gain membership and owners of modded consoles will throw away their subscriptions at which point these owners will not be forced to minimally purchase their games while playing online since theses services do not check for modded consoles. Others may decide to purchase an extra unmodded console for using XBL. At least until the mod-chip community undoubtedly find a way around this. In all cases maybe more consoles will be sold in the next few weeks because of this but in the end, absolutely no more games will be sold and Xboxes will continue to be modded.
Posted by (6 comments )
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in agreement
not only is the idea of modding your own hardware being wrong or illegal, but calling all modders cheaters is. there are plenty of cheats and glitches that can be done during online play that has nothing to do with whether there is a chip or a harddrive in the xbox.
Posted by (3 comments )
Link Flag
i bought it. i didnt lease it.
i bought my xbox. i own it. if i want to play it, or step on it, its mine. microsoft owns the code used to run it. thats all fine and dandy. so i can access and manipulate that code. there are linux os's on chips as well as bios' not written in microsofts proprietary language. so that is all and good. they don't want cheating, thats fine also. you couldnt get on live with a modchip turned on anyway. so even if you had one, you couldnt get on live. so its wrong to disable every xbox that may have had a larger harddrive and modchip. if microsoft owns my xbox, they owe me 150 dollars. actually 300 because i own 2. i'm not whining because i cant access live, because i can. i'm stating that you cant accuse all modders of cheating, when you cant prove that they were in the first place. the only way to really cheat on live is by using the cache, and its not that difficult to do that without a modchip installed and some common sense. an organization with as many technogeeks as microsoft should realize as such, and stop pointing fingers.
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i meant that i can't access and manipulate microsofts code. thats why i would use a linux os and bios.
Posted by (3 comments )
Link Flag
Good for Microsoft....
Maybe companies like Microsoft wouldn't get so bent out of shape if people didn't constantly try to come up with ways to steal.

Microsoft is 100% right in what they did. As a paying using of Xbox Live and one who didn't try to cheat everyone else by installing a mod chip I say bravo. I didn't pay all of that money and my monthly fees just to be cheated by low life scum.

Posted by (336 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Mind you, I fully paid my Xbox, my Live subscription and ALL my games. It just so happens I modded my Xbox so 1- I can permanently install MY games on the harddisk so my kids dont manipulate the disks and in the end completely destroy them and 2- so I can run other very nice applications like the Xbox Media Center (XBMC). Tell me why me & my kids should be banned from Xbox Live?
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
you are fooled
No offense, but not that this "cheating" stuff microsoft is bashing about it complete ********. Software inherently can be secured against cheating in things as live sessions.. it's just microsoft's means to get responses such as yours.

Aside from that this has nothing to do with cheating at all, it's clear that microsoft wants to attack those who use modchips for other reasons. Sure, those modchips would be used by many people with illegal copies of games, but the fundamental principle is that the modchips' goal is not to steal games but to open up all the possibilities of the hardware YOU own. If you say that microsoft should be the one dictating people what they can and can't do with the thing they purchased then think again. You HAVE TO seperate this modchip thing from stealing software.. stealing software is a crime, NOT installing the modchip. So no, microsoft absolutely no right to keep modchip users from using XBox Live, assuming that every xbox user has the RIGHT to use XBox Live when they use legitimately purchased software. Punishing those who have modchips is therefor illegal because having a modchip doesn't proof the use of illegal software.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
active mods never were allowed... so no one *could* cheat.
Not to rain on parades, but not all people with modded boxes are cheats. My husband and I both use the same Xbox and due to the fact that we're both heavy gamers (who might I add purchase all of our games legally) and enjoy different music, we needed some extra HD space. You could say that we should just buy another Xbox, but why should we be forced to conform to what M$ wants? XBL never allowed active mods when you went onto the system. We just shut it off and "viola!" an even playing field. Anyone can cheat on XBL, yes, even those without a mod. The fact that M$ wants to invade MY box and MY information is disgusting! The state police wouldn't tell me that I can't mod my car out with lights and other flash if it was only turned on in my garage or at a car show; they'd only bust me if I had it all up and running while I was driving. I don't mind if M$ wants to be sure there are no active mods turned on, but heck, to just have one getting you banned? Forget that. I can safely say I won't be gaming on XBL anymore! I'll save my money and let all you folks who think all modders are cheaters foot higher tabs for subscription fees. Have fun with that!
Posted by (1 comment )
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