Recently, Nintendo rolled out the Switch 5.0 firmware update. The release of this update was met with a lot of criticism from several fans as it didn’t add any major new features, and thus, the community felt that it wasn’t worthy of a whole new version number. But, it turns out that this update really was quite major, and can be considered the most important update the Switch has gotten so far. Why? Because it has stopped hackers dead in their tracks.
Popular gaming YouTuber Spawn Wave recently released a video detailing his findings on the reactions of members of the hacking community after the 5.0 update. The short version is that hackers aren’t too happy with this update since it has pretty much made the Switch impenetrable. Nintendo has made a lot of changes to the internal coding of the system. These changes have been so drastic, that reports have immediately arisen from people with third-party docks having their systems bricked, seemingly due to new incompatibility issues. When it comes to the hacking scene, basically all of the progress that hackers have been making in the past year is arguably now meaningless. At least for the time being, the only way they can continue their work is if they stay on older firmware versions. It won’t be long before Nintendo starts shipping new units with the 5.0 firmware pre-installed. So, those systems will be kept safe along with the millions of other Switch units already out in the wild that have been updated.
Over the past few months, we’ve published a few reports on what Switch hackers have been doing. I have to admit, the feats they’ve been able to pull off thus far have been rather impressive. That isn’t to say that I approve of their actions; rather, I’m saying that what they’ve managed to do is more than expected. For instance, a recent report that I wrote detailed what hacker group ‘Fail0verflow’ managed to achieve: getting the Switch to run a full Linux distro. They posted a video on Twitter, playing around with the OS on the console. They launched a browser, a 3D application and fooled with some settings on the desktop.Watching that video made me realize the Switch hacking community seemed to be getting pretty close to potentially breaking the system wide open.
That’s why the timing of this update is rather fitting. Quite bluntly, it shows that Nintendo is having none of it when it comes to dealing with hackers this generation.
Nintendo is clearly quite keen on keeping hackers away from its new platform.
A lot of Nintendo’s past systems are rather notorious for being pretty easy to hack. Namely, the Wii, DS, 3DS and Wii U. While the majority of systems are hacked eventually, these, in particular, weren’t as complicated as their competitors (minus the case of the DS vs PSP), and thus were broken into comparatively easily. For instance, there are dozens upon dozens of tutorials out there showing how to hack a Wii. Some of these tutorials have even been released rather recently. The process turns out to only take a few minutes, showing that hackers completely breached the system. Although the Wii U wasn’t as easy, it too was eventually broken into, although it didn’t last as long as its predecessor, so any detrimental effects of hacking weren’t plainly seen. On that note, it should be clear to see why Nintendo has taken a much more proactive approach to keeping the Switch safe: hacking only hurts.
I talked about the negative effects of hacking in a past article. The reason why I wrote that article was in response to the reactions I saw from some members of the fan community to another hacking report. Basically, some people were excited to see that progress was being made with hacking the Switch, and so I wanted to voice my opinions as to why these reports are something to be concerned about, not celebrated.
No console truly benefits from being hacked. The only ones that benefit are the tinkerers who want to fool around with the hardware, and of course, the pirates who just want to get every game they desire to have for free. When an active platform is hacked, this makes developers wary and usually leads to a loss of support. Loss of support means lower sales, and lower sales typically end up in a console’s life being cut short.
Past Nintendo systems were pretty easy to hack. Looks like the company has learned from its mistakes.
With the Switch being such a runaway success, it’s only natural that Nintendo is making sure a dark scenario like the one I just mentioned doesn’t become a reality. Nintendo wants to protect its investment, and the 5.0 update proves that loud and clear. This move correlates to a line I wrote in my aforementioned article: “When a potential security concern arises with an active system, the response we’ve typically seen from the parent company is to try and block out the exploit.” Clearly, that’s exactly what has happened here. Even if you think that the Switch being hacked could lead to increased hardware sales, that doesn’t make things ‘okay’. If that were to actually be beneficial, then why would Nintendo have made this move at all? The reality is, these companies don’t want their active products being tampered with. No matter which way you slice-and-dice it, the simple truth is that the only people who applaud hacking are the hackers themselves.
I understand that not all hacking is bad. There are folks who legitimately just want to try out different experiments with the hardware. But, you need to remember that as long as a product remains active on the market, the parent companies will do what they can to keep total control over the said product. I’ve seen arguments from some folks saying: “If I buy something, I’m free to do as I please with it. It’s mine.” To a degree, that is true, but that doesn’t mean literally everything you can/want to do is right. For instance, let’s say you buy a car and make all sorts of modifications to it. You give it a really powerful engine that shoots out flames from the exhaust pipes, light it up like a star with neon light strips, and tint the windows jet black. Sure, it’s your car, but do you think that argument is going to fly when the police spot you on the road? In like manner, when you buy a console, it’s yours, but that doesn’t mean these companies will approve of you hacking it.
The point is: Nintendo designed the Switch a specific way, and it is intended to be used that way. As soon as someone tries to deviate, that is a cause for concern to the company. So, we can expect more security patches to continue rolling out as long as the Switch remains an active platform. Will it live its life being completely unhackable? After this update, that could be likely, but not guaranteed. We’ll just have to wait and see, but you better believe Nintendo will see to it that this is the case.