DHS Hires Company to Hack Video Games

By Laura Spadanuta

The Department of Homeland Security is funding a research project to figure out ways to hack into gaming consoles to extract information, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

San Francisco-based company Obscure Technologies has been awarded a $177,237 research contract to develop "'hardware and software tools that can be used for extracting data from video game systems,' and 'a collection of data (disk images; flash memory dumps; configuration settings) extracted from new video game systems and used game systems purchased on the secondary market,' according to the contract award from the U.S. Navy," reports FP.

The project this funding comes under is "Gaming Systems Monitoring and Analysis Project." Some of the crimes that law enforcement are concerned might be divulged by the consoles are pedophilia and terrorism.

According to the article:

Monitoring gaming consoles is harder than you might think. Consoles such as the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii encrypt their devices to prevent piracy and tampering. Indeed, the contract states that "analysis of the game systems requires specific knowledge of working with the hardware of embedded systems that have significant anti-tampering technology." But this is more than hacking; the government wants tools that can apply computer forensics, which look for legally admissible evidence, to consoles.

While there have been some attempts to use computer forensics on consoles, researchers say this is relatively new ground. The DHS project is "exploratory research and development," said Obscure Technologies president Greg May. "It will be interesting to see, because it's new to us as well. A lot of this stuff hasn't been done. We're not sure how complicated it is."

Privacy advocate organization Electronic Frontier Foundation has voiced concern that users do not even know certain data is being stored in the consoles. But the contract is actually focusing on consoles sold abroad. According to FP's interview with Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) professor Simson Garfinkel, the US is going abroad because "We do not wish to work with data regarding U.S. persons due to Privacy Act considerations," says Garfinkel. "If we find data on U.S. citizens in consoles purchased overseas, we remove the data from our corpus."



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