Wiikey, a modchip manufacturer known for being the first crew to circumvent the copy-protection security of the original Nintendo Wii, claims to have done it again for the Wii U.
A product page at wiikey.com
describes an optical drive emulator that can enable copied Wii U games to be played from USB storage, as the team boasts to have "completely reversed the WiiU drive authentication, disk encryption, file system, and everything else needed for this next generation K3y" (thanks Eurogamer
Optical drive emulation involves a custom piece of hardware that is plugged into the console directly via the optical drive SATA cable, effectively replacing the console's actual disc drive with a fake that can be fed data from an attached harddrive.
The wiiKey team's description of the so-called "WiikeU" indicates that they have not cracked the Wii U in a manner that can allow a console to run unsigned code like homebrew or modified game content, only exact 1:1 copies of retail Wii U games.
Over on Eurogamer, tech guru Richard Leadbetter of Digital Foundry fame offered his thoughts on Nintendo's ability to combat this one:
"This looks like a variation on the optical drive emulators that appeared first on Xbox 360 - where the drive firmware was easily decrypted - and then latterly on PS3, which was much more of an effort to reverse-engineer," Leadbetter said.
"The fact that the comms traffic between the Wii U and the drive has been hacked so quickly is a major concern for Nintendo.
"In theory, the firmware on the drive can be rewritten with a new, secured version via a Wii U system update and thus nullify the device, but the question is how the Wiikey team reverse-engineered the system in the first place. Unless Nintendo re-secures whatever exploit was used, the pirates could issue a system update for their own hardware and the piracy will continue with barely a pause."
While piracy is the obvious use case for such a device, sellers generally attempt to legitimise it by promoting the ability to load multiple games without having to change discs, and as a backup measure in case of damaged discs.
Similar devices have been prevalent for some time on the Xbox 360, however they require users to be able to read the optical drive's key themselves. That this group appears to be able to automate that key extraction with their device is perhaps the most troubling sign for Nintendo's console security.
Of course, that all depends on whether the claims are in fact legitimate, but the group's proven experience in the console modding scene leaves little doubt.