Back in the day, one of the defining features of the PlayStation 2 and 3 home consoles was their ability to run Linux as a standalone operating system, allowing Sony access to markets that forbade home console sales by marketing them as almost-but-not-quite home computers, and setting up a growing homebrew community. Hackers have spent half a decade trying to gain complete control over Sony’s PlayStation 4 to run homebrew software, and they may have finally cracked the console’s security, allowing the homebrew community to start making their own software and games for Sony’s platform.
Homebrew was previously possible on the PS4 as of version 4.05 of the console’s operating system software, which allowed hackers root access and control over the hardware. However, there was a bigger interest in attacking version 4.55 of the OS because it gave hackers access to several new features including the higher performance mode to run older games at higher framerates, external hard drive support, custom wallpapers, group voice chat outside of games, and Remote Play functionality through Sony’s app on Windows 10 and MacOS Sierra. Version 4.55 also fixed some WiFi bugs, which helped with streaming local media from local DLNA servers.
The hack for consoles on version 4.55 is called “Holy Grail”, and is effectively a jailbreak for the console. Users can run custom software, load PS1 and PS2 videogames through an emulator, play backed up copies of their videogames, and pirate new videogames (although multiplayer definitely is not going to fly on Sony’s network).
While the ability to run homebrew software has niche appeal, exploits like this help the emulation community currently working on creating accurate emulators for PS4 titles. Having both root and debug access allows the developers of emulation software to learn more about the file systems, the kernel, and the security measures Sony put in place, and allows them to mimic these things better. Emulation projects like Orbital are getting there, but it takes time to write emulation software that doesn’t run afoul of Sony’s lawyers, so care has to be taken to ensure that online gameplay isn’t affected.
There’s also the ability to run these exploits for homebrew software and load Linux on the PS4 to turn it into a fully functional PC, complete with access to the GPU to run games. It’s not something I’d be interested in, but if you have an older PS4 that you don’t use, and it’s still on version 4.55 of the system software, this could be fun to tinker with. An exploit for version 5.05, Sony’s latest, is in the works but doesn’t give users as much control as this older one.