The Dangers of Letting Kids Hack Their PSPs

An excited guy holds a Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP)

 Yamaguchi Haruyoshi / Getty Images

Hacking the PSP is an enticing prospect. With the right modifications to the system's code, it becomes a versatile gaming machine — able to play not only the games that were designed for it but to "emulate" and play games intended for other systems, as well.

These games go by many names: ROMs, ISOs, DOS games, and homebrew, among others. Some of these are "freeware" games that the developers willingly provide at no cost to the player. Others are commercial releases, still protected under copyright — these, too, can be acquired for free, if one knows where to look. With a few hours of online research, older kids can often hack their PSPs successfully and begin playing freeware (and non-freeware) games in no time at all.

Whether they succeed or not, there are big risks to letting your child hack their PSP. As a parent, you should know just what these dangers are — especially if you bought the PSP in question.

What Are the Risks If My Child Does Hack the PSP Successfully?

Your child may be looking to play pirated games — games that aren't free, but that people provide for free (illegally) on their websites. Such sites may masquerade as pornography sites, filled with sexually-explicit images while providing links to pirated game downloads. Other times, the provided game files may be laden with viruses or malware, which can cause severe damage to your computer's files and compromise your system's security. Still, other sites may ask your child to sign up to download games, then use the information collected to hack into one of their other accounts, such as email. 

Downloading commercial games, like ISOs of original PlayStation games, is illegal (unless you own the real game). If your child does this, you can end up getting a notice from the ESA, or Entertainment Software Association, via your internet service provider. They may threaten to revoke your internet access for a time as a disciplinary measure.

If your child is going to download pirated games anyway, make sure they can tell the difference between a legitimate website and a phishing — or information-scamming — website.

What If My Child Doesn't Hack the PSP Correctly?

You can end up with a bricked system, which is unplayable because the firmware — the basic code needed to start the system — is corrupt. This can come about in several ways while hacking, one of which is a bad downgrader. Downgraders are files meant to return the PSP firmware to an earlier version that will allow the user to install unlicensed software, like homebrew and emulators. Bad downgraders look like good files ​but end up containing malicious code, like viruses. Making a bricked PSP playable again can cost over $100. 

To learn how to hack the PSP properly, some recommended reading is Hacking the PSP: Cool Hacks, Mods, and Customizations for the Sony PlayStation Portable by Auro Rahimzadeh.

There are lots of homebrew utilities and games, and lots of freeware DOS games, that are perfectly legal to download without paying. If your child is interested in these, hacking the PSP is well worth the risk and the effort — just be sure they know what they're doing.