How Will The Big Nintendo Switch Hardware Hack Affect the Console’s Future?

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Nintendo)

The Nintendo Switch is an increasingly popular console.

As it turns out, gamers are very eager for the opportunity to play five year old games on a bus, or plane.

Or, most importantly, while sat on the toilet.

With popularity, though, comes attention, and this isn’t always a good thing. Dedicated hackers would have inevitably found their way to the Switch sooner rather than later, just for fun, but with so many people embracing the console, the potential for disaster on Nintendo’s part is even greater.

Hackers have found a hardware exploit within the Switch that Nintendo are unable to fix through patches. The security hole relates to the console’s Nvidia Tegra X1 processor, which means that no software patch can adequately fix the problem.

So what’s the big deal? What kind of consequences will we see from this hack?

Source: Nintendo

For the moment, hackers have been experimenting with relatively benign uses for the security hole. The Nvidia chip can be persuaded to run a version of the Linux operating system, giving the Switch the ability to function as a stripped-down computer.

The hope among some hackers is that this can be used to create emulators – if Nintendo is insistent on not releasing Virtual Console games from its back catalogue on the system, this could provide gamers a way to play SNES games on their fancy new Switch.

This is a legal grey area, but what’s less ambiguous is the other potential use for the exploit: piracy. As with other consoles in the past (such as Sony’s PSP or the Sega Dreamcast), this exploit could be used to very easily allow gamers to play illegal copies of popular games.

Fixing the Unfixable

So what can Nintendo do? Not much at this stage. All existing Switch consoles contain the security hole, and it can’t be closed. The company could end up losing a lot of revenue if pirates make use of the opportunity to play games for free.

At the same time, it may be possible that Nintendo can push for some form of retribution or punishment – the company can’t stop people from pirating, but they might be able to lock player accounts if they’re caught messing around with the exploit. That said, at this stage, it’s hard to tell how much data Nintendo will be able to record on player activity surrounding the hack.

Switch Nintendo
Source: Nintendo

In the long run, I imagine that Nintendo will entirely redesign the Switch to close the hole. This will be a pain, but considering the popularity of the device, the move will probably be worthwhile in the long run.

Once this happens, expect original generation Switch consoles to mysteriously gain value on eBay and other marketplaces, thanks to their unique flaw.

Nintendo’s hardly going to go bankrupt over a security exploit like this. The vast majority of Switch owners wouldn’t dream of pirating games to begin with.

Nevertheless, the race is on. Nintendo and hackers are now going to be locked in a constant struggle to either close holes or open new ones. A brand new hacking battleground has been exposed.