The Switch has been gaining serious momentum over the past eight months. Even so, it is still fair to say that the system is rather barren when it comes to functionality. Nintendo did a great job at making sure the Operating System is snappy, but that’s seemed to come at the cost of excluding features…or is it? Is the real reason the Switch OS is so lightweight because Nintendo wants to make it harder for hackers?
It’s a secret to nobody that Nintendo systems are popular in the hacking community. Consoles, in general, are big targets for hackers, but Nintendo systems in particular over the last few years have been the easiest to crack open. This is likely due to the fact that Nintendo has been using simpler, more primitive hardware compared to its competitors. Hackers have been able to add and even unlock functionality of consoles, which actually tends to make the hardware a lot more valuable and beneficial to the user. In any case, a console getting hacked is almost never good news for its parent company as this typically opens the floodgates for software pirates to sail right on in.
The DS, Wii, 3DS and Wii U are all victims of extensive hacking. In the case of all these systems except the 3DS, there are even emulators available on PC that are mostly stable, allowing people to not just pirate games, but even play these games without the original hardware. I will admit that a few years ago I spent quite a lot of time playing DS games via an emulator; I was much younger and didn’t start working as a journalist yet. After being integrated into the gaming industry over the last few years, I’ve really come to understand why companies like Nintendo throw the gauntlet down on the hacking community, despite some gamers really enjoying what hackers are able to do.
With this having been established, Nintendo has really seemed to wise up when it comes to the Switch. While the system’s OS may seem featureless, Nintendo has been taking special precautions, even going to the point of turning to the HackerOne program to hire ‘white hat’ hackers to find exploits in the OS. But even so, I’m sure we’d all agree it’s a real turn off not to have basic functionality like the ability to back-up save data on microSD cards, or even being able to use an Internet browser. While having stuff like this would be great, these features could give hackers just the backdoor they need.
Hackers have used external media to hack Nintendo systems in the past.
Thos is likely why we can currently only do so little with microSD cards on Switch.
If you’re familiar with the Nintendo hacking scene, then you’d know that hackers have been able to crack open systems in the most interesting ways. Exploiting the save data of certain titles, executing malicious code via browsers, getting access to the main parts of the OS via external storage—hackers are a very creative set of folks. At this point, Nintendo has become fully aware of how crafty hackers can be, which is likely why the Switch released with an OS in such simple, closed-off state. My best guess is that Nintendo is looking for ways to add more features to the OS while also making sure they can protect the Switch from being easily exploited.
That brings another thought to mind: could this be why the Switch Online service was delayed?
The new network was supposed to launch in the Fall of this year but was pushed back to 2018. The reason, according to Nintendo, is because it wants to make sure the quality is up to par with what gamers are expecting. That makes sense, but it’s also likely there’s more to the story. Remember the massive hack attack on the PlayStation Network a few years ago? This definitely sent a message to all companies, Nintendo included.
Now that the Big N is building its own premium network service, no doubt it wants to keep it as secure as possible. That’s probably why Switch Online is subscription-based; to invest in server protection. Network services, in general, are not cheap, so no doubt it’s costing Nintendo quite a lot to bring it up to par with XBL and PSN.
Switch Online is Nintendo’s biggest leap yet into the digital realm. Chances are it and its features will be protected like a fortress.
On top of that, certain features like potential online save data back-up may likely be put behind the paywall of Switch Online. On top of being a source of revenue, it’s likely Nintendo is also hoping that by giving access to premium features only to paying customers, it will make things harder for hackers. Of course, none of this means that the Switch won’t be hacked at all (hackers are already making some progress), but it should buy Nintendo a lot more time.
Some folks are already hyped over the idea of cracking the Switch wide open for Homebrew functionality, but Nintendo is not set to entertain any of that. If the Switch gets hacked anytime soon, it would not look good to developers as they would fear a loss of revenue due to potential piracy. Not to mention it would make their games less secure. With the Switch being such a hot system right now, Nintendo is no doubt doing all it can to continuously make it look as appealing as possible to both developers and consumers alike.
As we saw with the recent major firmware update (version 4.0) and even the surprise arrival of Hulu, new functionality can and will be added to the Switch over time. I wouldn’t be surprised if, by at least the summer of 2018, the OS will be a lot more advanced than the simple slate we have now. Nintendo is just most likely taking the slow approach just for the sake of protecting its assets. Can you really blame them?