Well known hacker Andrew “bunnie” Huang has announced via a post on the website for “No Starch Press” that he has decided to release his infamous work “Hacking the Xbox” as a free eBook in honor of Internet activist Aaron Swartz.
Aaron’s shocking suicide in January of this year, widely believed to be due to the unfair handling of his ongoing criminal case by the US government, threw a spotlight on not only how the government pursues hackers, but also in the way academia locks up information. Many groups, such as Anonymous, believed that Aaron’s memory could best be honored by furthering the goals of “Open Access“; which aims to release scholarly journals without restrictions.
Huang is no stranger to the sort of bullying tactics that finally caused Aaron to take his own life. In his announcement on “No Starch Press”, he recalls his own experiences with trying to release information to the public:
I agreed to release this book for free in part because Aaron’s treatment by MIT is not unfamiliar to me. In this book, you will find the story of when I was an MIT graduate student, extracting security keys from the original Microsoft Xbox. You’ll also read about the crushing disappointment of receiving a letter from MIT legal repudiating any association with my work, effectively leaving me on my own to face Microsoft.
The difference was that the faculty of my lab, the AI laboratory, were outraged by this treatment. They openly defied MIT legal and vowed to publish my work as an official “AI Lab Memo,” thereby granting me greater negotiating leverage with Microsoft. Microsoft, mindful of the potential backlash from the court of public opinion over suing a legitimate academic researcher, came to a civil understanding with me over the issue.
Hacking the Xbox
In “Hacking the Xbox“, Huang chronicles his experiences with hacking the original Microsoft Xbox game system. While the original Xbox is considerably outdated at this point, the book serves as both an interesting how-to guide on reverse engineering, and a testament to how big manufacturers like Microsoft can scare publishers and individuals into keeping their secrets for them.
It’s an interesting read, even if you aren’t a gamer, and now that it’s available as a DRM-free PDF, there’s no reason not to take a look.