Hacking the Xbox, free in honor of Aaron Swartz

Bunnie Huang's seminal book "Hacking the Xbox" is now a free PDF, released thus by the author in honor of Aaron Swartz. "Hacking the Xbox" is the "Our Bodies, Our Selves" of reverse engineering -- a brilliant and accessible text setting out the case for and the practicalities of reverse engineering and taking control of your devices.

I agreed to release this book for free in part because Aaron’s treatment by MIT is not unfamiliar to me. In this book, you will find the story of when I was an MIT graduate student, extracting security keys from the original Microsoft Xbox. You’ll also read about the crushing disappointment of receiving a letter from MIT legal repudiating any association with my work, effectively leaving me on my own to face Microsoft.

The difference was that the faculty of my lab, the AI laboratory, were outraged by this treatment. They openly defied MIT legal and vowed to publish my work as an official “AI Lab Memo,” thereby granting me greater negotiating leverage with Microsoft. Microsoft, mindful of the potential backlash from the court of public opinion over suing a legitimate academic researcher, came to a civil understanding with me over the issue.

It saddens me that America’s so-called government for the people, by the people, and of the people has less compassion and enlightenment toward their fellow man than a corporation. Having been a party to subsequent legal bullying by other entities, I am all too familiar with how ugly and gut-wrenching a high-stakes lawsuit can be. Fortunately, the stakes in my cases were not as high, nor were my adversaries as formidable as Aaron’s, or I too might have succumbed to hopelessness and fear. A few years ago, I started rebuilding my life overseas, and I find a quantum of solace in the thought that my residence abroad makes it a little more difficult to be served.

While the US legal system strives for justice, the rules of the system create an asymmetric war that favors those with resources. By and far one of the most effective methods to force a conclusion, right or wrong, against a small player is to simply bleed them of resources and the will to fight through pre-trial antics. Your entire life feels like it is under an electron microscope, with every tiny blemish magnified into a pitched battle of motions, countermotions, discovery, subpoenas, and affidavits, and each action heaping tens of thousands of dollars onto your legal bill. Your friends, co-workers, employers, and family are drawn into this circus of humiliation as witnesses. Worse, you’re counseled not to speak candidly to anyone, lest they be summoned as a witness against you. Isolated and afraid, it eventually makes more sense to roll over and settle than to take the risk of losing on a technicality versus a better-funded adversary, regardless of the justice.

An open letter from bunnie, author of Hacking the Xbox


  1. Wow. I really feel for him. I know very much how he feels, having gone up against ABC/Radio Disney in a copyright case (which I won.) 
    Here is the boing boing link to my story

    I mentioned this case to Cory during his recent book tour. In my case I had the support of the EFF, if you don’t have the backing of somebody it’s really really scary.  (Plug, become a member of EFF!) 

    Having a multi-billion dollar corporation come after you, a company known for their copyright litigiousness, one that that hires lawyers by the train load, is really spooky, even with support. 

    I do wish I could have flipped the case and sued them for the emotional pain and suffering I went though, but I was told that it would be a hard case to win.  My lawyers might have reconsidered this now following a case that shows that the emotional pain and suffering of a suit can lead to death.  

     I also was fortunate to be writing under a pseudonym, because my opponents weren’t just corporate lawyers but wingnut radio hosts. Two of whom lost their jobs because of the financial impact of my work. That was personal for them. They have even admitted to holding a grudge. 

    1.  My partner’s gotten two lawyers disbarred for abuse of process and won a landmark case back in the 70’s (Wendel v. State Farm), so tell your lawyers to go for the jugular, because, fuck Disney.

  2. TBH MIT sounds like a bunch of complete dicks.

    Based on reputation MIT should be the EFF of universities, but instead they’re the Adrian Lamo of techno douche-bags.

    This will be a good read… Thanks Bunnie!

    RIP Aaron.
    DIAF Ortiz. Seriously. DIAF.

  3. Very well put, Bunnie. 

    I keep thinking (wishfully…hopefully) that the vile aspects of our “system” will turn on themselves, or just collapse out of sheer inanity.  But it keeps getting worse, in the most hideous Darwinian fashion.

    We should all worry when a specific profession…or service…such as law starts being referred to as an “industry.”  It’s certainly not about justice any more.

  4. I’ve been meaning to read this for a long time, but kept putting it off. i.e. Too cheap to buy it, and the library doesn’t have a copy.

  5. Thanks, bunnie! 

    But I find myself feeling more and more…i don’t know the word I want because saddened isn’t strong enough and…I don’t know…but with every tribute to Aaron Swartz it gets stronger. Because none of it will bring this amazing young man back. I didn’t know Aaron, and I can’t say why this hits me so hard. But we have to stop doing this to amazing young people like Aaron Swartz.

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