Just how screwed is Nintendo and Nvidia?

One of the biggest talking points around here, at least for the past two days revolves around the recent exploit that effects Nvidia’s Tegra X1 processor. The very same SOC that not only powers Nvidia’s Shield, but also the Google Pixel C, and Nintendo’s ultra-popular hybrid console, the Nintendo Switch. For those who haven’t been paying attention, a very serious exploit was outed the past few days. One that will allow anyone who takes advantage of it to run not only homebrew applications on the Switch. But can also open the door to piracy on the Switch, as well as cheating in their online games. This is the equivalent of having the keys to the kingdom. Definitely not something that Nintendo wants to see.

Of course, normally you would start on working on a patch or firmware update to prevent this. However, this isn’t an option here. For some reason, prior to the Tegra X1 chipsets leaving the factory, the fuses needed to potentially patch this was burned away. Meaning that this exploit takes advantage of a hardware issue, exploitation of the bootROM. This vulnerability, originally disclosed by ReSwitched, then later by fail0verflow, paints a bad picture. For both Nvidia, as the maker of the chipset and Nintendo, who very well have a huge security issue on their hands.

Clearly, fail0verflow went through a moral dilemma prior to releasing their findings. Mainly due to the nature of this exploit. One that they acknowledge could lead to used to promote piracy on the Nintendo Switch. They released the following statement along with their finds;

Choosing whether to release an exploit or not is a difficult choice. Given our experiences with past consoles, we’ve been wary of releasing vulnerability details or exploits for fear of them being used primarily for piracy rather than homebrew. That said, the¹ Tegra bootrom bug is so obvious that multiple people have independently discovered it by now; at best, a release by other homebrew teams is inevitable, while at worst, a certain piracy modchip team might make the first move. 90 days ago, we begun the responsible disclosure process with Google, as Tegra chips are often used in Android devices. The disclosure deadline has now lapsed. The bug will be made public sooner or later, likely sooner, so we might as well release now along with our Linux boot chain and kernel tree, to make it very clear that we do this for fun and homebrew, and nothing else.

You can read the post in its entirety here. For a detailed explanation of the exploit, see here.

So now that this has been outed, what’s next? Well, both Nvidia and Nintendo know what’s going on now. And we’re sure they’ve also acknowledged that a patch isn’t going to be the solution here. They’re powerless at this point. Sure, Nintendo could tighten down the Switch OS, in an attempt to slow down the damage. But any efficient hacker or tinkerer will no doubt able to roll those changes back. No, the only fix here is a revision of the Terga X1 processor. 

Which is oddly enough as there have been rumblings of a revised Nintendo Switch, the T214 revision of the current Switch. Here, an additional 4GB would bump the available memory to 8GB. What wasn’t mentioned was an updated processor, yet if these findings are true then it means that Nintendo was already in the process of pushing out a revision. Now if that is the case, we can now safely state that a new processor will also be part of those plans.

But for now, this is a nightmare for Nintendo. You can expect the house of Mario to start putting the screws to both any possible offenders. More patches with OS tricks that will try to defeat the exploit. While any mention of it being shown or demonstrated will likely be meant with legal action. We all know Nintendo is good for that. Outside of that, nothing that the company does will prevent this knowledge from spreading. To which I fully expect a new revised Nintendo Switch to be released. Likely prior to 2018 ending, right before the shopping season. Until that happens, the homebrew and piracy world will start surrounding the Switch and this situation will be an interesting one, as the gaming world watches to see how this plays out.

About The Author

Keith Mitchell
Editor-in-chief and all-around good guy!

Keith Mitchell is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Outerhaven. A grizzled IT professional during the day, but a passionate lover of video games after his 9-5 grid. Loves playing the Dark Souls series and has been gaming since he was 6 years old. Available for podcasts upon request.