This article covers the saves signing process used by the original Xbox.  Only the standard signing process is discussed, the “noroam” signatures are not covered.  All code is based on my own work or derivative work of others.  The language used in examples is Delphi and assumes a familiarity with programming concepts such as the use of records or structures for reading in data.

The reason I’ve never previously discussed the Xbox save signing procedure in public is concern that by doing so would negatively impact Xbox Live.  Now that the original Xbox and it’s games are unable to access the Xbox Live service the following information is relatively harmless.

A brief history

The original Xbox used digital signatures to validate not only executables it was loading but save data, with this it was impossible to change or tamper with a save without updating the file’s digital signature using the correct key.  This key was generated using data contained within the default.xbe and a key used by the Xbox Operating System.  The save data was then run through a SHA1 HMAC routine and the 20 byte result appended to the save data to confirm integrity. This result, or digest, was usually found at the beginning or the end of a file although it can potentially be located anywhere in the file if the developer was feeling adventurous.

Obtaining the XBE key

Each Xbox game has a default.xbe file, this is the executable that is loaded whenever you start a game. It contains various information including the title ID, age rating, game region and the all important signature key.  Don’t get confused, this is not the key used to sign the saves but is an essential piece in the process.
The first step is to obtain the key directly from the XBE. This is stored in a certificate area of the file, the address of which is located in the XBE header. Before we can retrieve the key we need to define the structure of the XBE Header and the Certificate data we will be retrieving:

?View Code DELPHI
// XBE sections
unit xbestruct;
ByteArray = array[0..15] of byte;
TxbeHeader = record
	m_magic : cardinal;                    // magic number [should be "XBEH"]
	m_digsig : array[0..255] of char;      // digital signature
	m_base: cardinal;                      // base address
	m_sizeof_headers : cardinal;           // size of headers
	m_sizeof_image : cardinal;             // size of image
	m_sizeof_image_header : cardinal;      // size of image header
	m_timedate : cardinal;                 // timedate stamp
	m_certificate_addr : cardinal;         // certificate address
	m_sections : cardinal;                 // number of sections
	m_section_headers_addr : cardinal;     // section headers address
	m_init_flags : cardinal;
	m_entry : cardinal;                         // entry point address
	m_tls_addr : cardinal;                       // thread local storage directory address
	m_pe_stack_commit  : cardinal;                // size of stack commit
	m_pe_heap_reserve : cardinal;               // size of heap reserve
	m_pe_heap_commit  : cardinal;                 // size of heap commit
	m_pe_base_addr : cardinal;                   // original base address
	m_pe_sizeof_image : cardinal;               // size of original image
	m_pe_checksum : cardinal;                // original checksum
	m_pe_timedate : cardinal;                   // original timedate stamp
	m_debug_pathname_addr  : cardinal;            // debug pathname address
	m_debug_filename_addr : cardinal;           // debug filename address
	m_debug_unicode_filename_addr : cardinal;   // debug unicode filename address
	m_kernel_image_thunk_addr : cardinal;        // kernel image thunk address
	m_nonkernel_import_dir_addr : cardinal;      // non kernel import directory address
	m_library_versions : cardinal;               // number of library versions
	m_library_versions_addr : cardinal;          // library versions address
	m_kernel_library_version_addr : cardinal;    // kernel library version address
	m_xapi_library_version_addr : cardinal;      // xapi library version address
	m_logo_bitmap_addr : cardinal;               // logo bitmap address
	m_logo_bitmap_size : cardinal;               // logo bitmap size
pTXbeHeader = ^TXbeHeader;
TxbeCertificate  = record
	m_size : cardinal;                          // size of certificate
	m_timedate : cardinal;                     // timedate stamp
	m_titleid : cardinal;                       // title id
	m_title_name : array[0..63] of widechar;                // title name (unicode)
	m_alt_title_id : byteArray;            // alternate title ids
	m_allowed_media  : cardinal;                 // allowed media types
	m_game_region  : cardinal;               // game region
	m_game_ratings  : cardinal;                  // game ratings
	m_disk_number : cardinal;                   // disk number
	m_version : cardinal;                       // version
	m_lan_key : byteArray;                 // lan key
	m_sig_key : byteArray;                  // signature key
	m_title_alt_sig_key : array[0..15, 0..15] of byte;     // alternate signature keys
pTxbeCertificate = ^ TxbeCertificate;

The TxbeHeader record contains a lot of data but the two most important sections are m_certificate_addr, and m_base.  These two values give us the address of the certificate.

The following code retrieves the key from an XBE file:

?View Code DELPHI
    MS : TMemoryStream;
    xbeHeader : pTxbeHeader;
    xbeCert : pTxbeCertificate;
    MS := TmemoryStream.Create;
    //Read in header and certificate
    MS.Read(xbeHeader^, sizeof(xbeHeader^));
    MS.Position := xbeHeader^.m_certificate_addr - xbeHeader^.m_base;
    MS.Read(xbeCert^, sizeof(xbeCert^));

We can now access the sig_key directly

?View Code DELPHI

Generating the signing key

The key we retrieved from the XBE is not used to directly sign save data, instead it is used in a SHA1 HMAC with the Xbox key to produce the actual key we need. Thankfully we don’t need to determine the Xbox key every time we need to sign or verify a save as it is a constant.

The following is a textual representation of this key, to use it you must first convert it to a 16 byte array:


Once you have this key in a byte array simply run both the XBE key and the Xbox key through a SHA1 HMAC (referring to the documentation for your SHA1 HMAC function as to whether you need to pass data or memory addresses to the function). The output should be a 160bit digest truncated to 16 bytes (the last 4 bytes are not required and should not be used or present).

?View Code DELPHI
    digest : T160BitDigest;
    digest := CalcHMAC_SHA1(addr(xboxKey), 16, xbeCert^.m_sig_key, 16);

Determining the data to process

As noted before the digital signature is usually found before or after the actual save data.  It is entirely possible to store this signature at any location in the file and treat this location as all 0’s during the HMAC process.  Since we cannot rely on all developers using the same location for the signature we must determine the location ourselves.

The fastest and easiest way to do this is to start a new game and make a save at the earliest opportunity.  If the game saves any options you change this is ideal, otherwise start playing and save as soon as you can.  Copy this save to you PC and label is SAVE A.

Load the game again and create another save with as small a difference as you can but ensuring something is different.  As before, if the game saves option changes you should change only a single item and re-save. Copy this save to your PC and label it SAVE B.

Open both saves in a hex editor and visually compare the two, with little differences between them you should easily spot the 20 byte digital signature either at the start or the end of the file.  You can use an automatic file comparison if your editor supports it but in my experience I can find the sig faster by eye.  The signature in both files should be wildly different with the actual save data very consistent, aside from the minor differences you saved earlier.

Once you have found the sig location you should exclude this from the HMAC routines.  If the sig is at the end of the file you should HMAC all data up to the last 20 bytes, if it is at the beginning then all data after the first 20 bytes should be processed.  If the signature is located at another location in the file then you will need to experiment as to what data to HMAC.  A common trick when generating checksum’s is to treat the area containing the result of the checksum as all 0’s during the processing stage and write the result back to this location once complete.  Please note, it is rare to see this, most saves store their signature at the beginning or end of the file.

Generating the signature

Now you have the correct key and the data to process you can generate or check signatures for that particular games save files.  Similar to how the key was generated, the actual signature generation is a SHA1 HMAC of the save data (excluding the existing signature) with the key.

In the following example the save signature is located at the end of the file and the data is copied to a different memory stream for processing. The previously generated key is stored in a 16 byte array named sigKey

?View Code DELPHI
mem := TMemoryStream.Create;
mem2 := TMemoryStream.Create;
mem.Position := 0;
mem2.CopyFrom(mem, mem.Size - 20);
digest := CalcHMAC_SHA1(addr(sigKey), 16, mem2.memory^, mem2.size);

Before making any changes to a save you should confirm that the signature you generate matches that already present on an unaltered save.

It’s worth bearing in mind that a lot of saves contain a checksum as well as a digital signature.  The most common being a CRC32 or a simple addition of bytes, you must recalculate this before the digital signature should you make any changes to the file.


The process of creating a digital signature for Xbox saves is fairly simple and can be summarized as

  • SHA1 HMAC “XBE key” using “Xbox key”
  • Truncate resulting 160 bit digest to 16 bytes to create the “signature key”
  • SHA1 HMAC Save data using “signature key”
  • Compare resulting 160 bit digest to existing signature or write back to save file.

If you use the information above to create anything or produce a unique save, drop me a line in the comments, sometimes the most interesting time in a games life is long after it was released..