Nintendo sues Bowser (not that one) over Team Xecuter’s Switch hacks

A prototype SX Core device soldered to a Nintendo Switch motherboard.
Enlarge / A prototype SX Core device soldered to a Nintendo Switch motherboard.
Team Xeceuter

Months after his arrest on 11 felony counts last year, Nintendo has filed a civil lawsuit against Gary “GaryOPA” Bowser, the leader of notorious Switch hacking group Team Xecuter, in a Seattle federal court.

The suit (as obtained by Polygon) seeks significant monetary damages and disgorgement of all profits from Team Xecuter’s sale of the piracy-enabling SX OS software and a line of hardware devices that use various exploits to install the OS on Switch units. The suit alleges that “at one point, the SX OS was pre-installed on 89% of modded/hacked Nintendo Switch products available for sale,” though the suit doesn’t provide a source for that number.

The lawsuit calls out Bowser as “one of only a handful of key members of Team Xecuter,” and it quotes Ars’ own assessment (without credit) that Bowser is “the closest thing to a public face for the team of coders and foreign manufacturers that made up the [Team Xecuter] supply chain.” In promoting and selling SX OS, Bowser “worked with a network of developers; established a distribution chain of resellers, testers, and websites; and designed the marketing and content of other public-facing websites for Team Xecuter,” the suit alleges.

The Team Xecuter website (and a number of URLs that pointed to it) were “largely under [Bowser’s] control,” according to the lawsuit. A handful of hand-picked moderators also provided assistance. The suit notes that “after Defendant’s arrest, no additional posts were ever made to” That site, which remained up as recently as January, has started returning a database connection error in recent months.

Bowser has “continued to thumb his nose at the law,” Nintendo says, providing circumvention tools to resellers and “forcing Nintendo into a game of whack-a-mole” to try to shut down their distribution at the retail level.

A history of hacking

Team Xecuter has been involved in the console hacking scene since the days of the original Xbox. The group drew its fair share of controversy in that scene even before Bowser and two of his associates were arrested as part of an international manhunt last October.

That’s in part because the group profits from what are otherwise generally open source efforts to identify and publicize vulnerabilities in console hardware. Team Xecuter also markets its devices with a specific focus on decrypting and copying legitimate software, while open source hackers tend to keep the focus on installing homebrew software and custom firmware that doesn’t directly enable piracy.

In 2018, Kate Temkin, who worked with Team ReSwitched on the Switch’s original Fusee Gelée exploit, told Ars that she “strongly disagree[s] with the idea of hiding software exploits and then releasing modchips that use (potentially obfuscated) versions of them,” as Team Xecuter does. “I think it’s both unethical—as it gives malicious actors a chance to pick up and use the vulnerabilities before they can be addressed or public knowledge can spread—and against the spirit of knowledge-exchange we want to see in the console-hacking community.”

Aside from monetary damages that could easily run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, Nintendo is asking that Bowser give up his control of the Team Xecuter website and its URLs and turn over every SX OS hacking device in his possession.