Sega Saturn copy protection broken after 20 years – CD copy protection still remains mystery

Posted 11 July 2016 18:16 CEST by Jan Willem Aldershoff

The copy protection of the CD based Sega Saturn game console has finally been cracked. After more than 20 years after the launch of the console, the security researcher Dr. Abrasive found a way to run his own software on the game computer.

Previously this was only possible using a modchip which required to open the Sega Saturn and add an additional chip. As Abrasive wasn’t up to that, he decided to analyse the copy protection present on the CD and found it to be working well. Also on our forums there has been a 18 page long quest by many optical storage experts to find a way to circumvent the copy protection of the Sega Saturn CD. The thread contains information about the development kits and several experiments, but still nobody found a way to run copied CDs on the console. This appears to be mainly because the physical properties of the Sega Saturn CDs differ from CD-R recordables. They seem to use a special wobble in the outer ring of the disc.

Abrasive first took pretty much the same approach. He also found that the CDs have an outer ring that is used to detect between an original disc and a copy of the disc and got pretty much stuck.

By further analyzing the hardware architecture of the Sega Saturn,¬†the researcher decided to detach the CD module and solder it on its own PCB and read out the ROM contents of the processor this way. By reverse-engineering he mapped the internal operating system and he hoped to find a backdoor in the copy protection code this way, but he didn’t find one.

Eventually he found a solution in the playback of video CDs. By adding a special expansion card users can playback video on their Sega Saturn and this card contained the code that Abrasive was looking for. Through this code he found a possibility to attach the required modchip to the console. This means users no longer have to open their console but can load their own files and software from an USB stick.

Obviously very interesting, but that still doesn’t allow users to run a backup of their Sega Saturn CDs. As mentioned before, users on our forums have been looking for a way for a long time to make this possible, but even after 20 years the actual CD copy protection of the Sega Saturn remains a mystery.

Administrator & Reviewer
Posted on: 12 Jul 16 10:46
It might be twenty years on but it's amazing what comes out of these sorts of things sometimes, as it may randomly give clues to cracking other protection technology that perhaps wouldn't have been thought of otherwise.

0 Agree

Posted on: 12 Jul 16 10:50
News? I guess, but in all honesty, being that the Sega Saturn is an old console, I can't see why anyone would be opposed to open it and use a mod-chip to circumvent the protection. It's not like you're invalidating your warranty now, is it?

The system lost to Sony's Playstation and was only available for nearly four years (late 1994-1998) and can be played through the Yabause, Satourne and other emulators today. In light of this, I think the incentive to crack the old wobble protection is more or less gone and so it will be allowed to continue to be one of the uncracked protections.
0 Agree

MyCE Resident
Posted on: 13 Jul 16 20:15
Yeah, well not all that impressive.. it would have been impressive it were a FULL crack.. but they claim you can't even run copied discs.. all this alleged crack does is allow the console to play and load regular discs' info.. the wobble protection was similar to holes placed in magnetic media to detect an original copy. Today copy protections are so far embedded up software's a** you need forensic crackers with almost super computers and ELITE skillsets similar to the developers to crack. Better energies would be expended on the modern stuff..

This is similar to discovering bluebox in the days of virtually free calling around the world with the internets...
0 Agree

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