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New Galaxy Tab firmware bans hacks beyond iPad levels

updated 01:15 pm EST, Mon December 27, 2010

Samsung Galaxy Tab getting 'unhackable' firmware

Samsung may soon roll out a new firmware update for the Galaxy Tab that will clamp down much more tightly than Apple does for the iPad, experimenters found late Sunday. The new JM6 A, C and D builds Samsung is planning have bootloaders that are signed and prevent unauthorized firmware from running. Once the firmware is installed, any jailbreaks, roots and other custom firmware won't run, XDA-Developers members learned.

Later builds aren't as uniformly locked, but they so far all have at least some code signing that creates the same effect. Users are hopeful of a workaround in software but have been concerned that it might require soldering or other physical tricks to get the same access as they have with the current official code. HTC has a similar approach on the T-Mobile G2 that reverts to official firmware but which has been thwarted since.

It's not clear if the firmware in its current state is intended for final devices, though previous leaked builds haven't had the same restrictions.

If made official, the step could make the Android 2.2 tablet not only difficult to hack but paradoxically more restrictive than the iPad. While Apple often patches up security holes and has tighter control over what apps are allowed to run on normal firmware, iOS is relatively easy to crack in current form. Apple just recently dropped jailbreak detection code as well, although this is primarily for enterprise users and not Apple's own ends.

Google has routinely claimed that Android is more open but has also used this to let hardware manufacturers and carriers lock down the hardware themselves. Only official Google phones such as the Nexus One and Nexus S have unlocked bootloaders that let users change the firmware without needing a hack.



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. VValdo

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: May 2001

    -5

    Lots of misinformation here...

    " HTC has a similar approach on the T-Mobile G2 that reverts to official firmware but which has been thwarted since."

    The T-Mobile G2's protection had little to do with signed firmware-- while new firmware WAS signed (and generally you want updates to be signed), the main issue with the g2 was that (1) the system did not allow root access by default, and (2) the emmc (internal memory card) was set to read-only mode upon boot. To circumvent the first part, a "fork bomb" attack was used to escalate a shell into root mode To get past the second challenge, hackers learned how to power down the emmc from the linux kernel, and then reinitialize it in read-write mode so that changes could be made to the system.

    "Google has routinely claimed that Android is more open but has also used this to let hardware manufacturers and carriers lock down the hardware themselves."

    It is true that Google has routinely claimed that Android is open-- This recent blogpost makes that case very clear. However, when you say Google "has used this to let hardware manufacturers.. lock down the hardware..." -- well, that's what OPEN means.. Don't make Google out to be the villains here. They are providing an open platform and it's the hardware manufacturers and carriers who are being immoral and making poor business decisions. They-- including Apple-- deserve serious pushback and vitriol from the public. To say that Google "used" openness to let carriers lock down the hardware is to misunderstand what openness is.

    "Apple just recently dropped jailbreak detection code as well, "

    While this article seems to suggest that Apple is totally cool with jailbreaking, I might remind everyone that Apple fought against your right to jailbreak and lost, thanks to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Because they successfully petitioned the FCC to let us have the freedom to jailbreak our phones, Apple and other companies' cynical claims that jailbreaking constituted a violation of copyright was determined to be bogus.

  1. James Katt

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Mar 2008

    +3

    Ha ha ha.

    Now, who is more open?

  1. James Katt

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Mar 2008

    -2

    Apple should also copy this

    Apple should also sign the bootloader in order to prevent hacks.

  1. 001

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Dec 2010

    +10

    comment title

    Google is able to dodge accountability by hiding behind Openness.

    Apple remains involved and accountable throughout its ecosystem.

    Google is able to say that it just produces tools and won't limit hardware manufactures customizations. If Samsung does something iffy Google can praise Openness and remind us it had nothing to do with it.

    Apple maintains control over its brand and experience. When people get pissed off Apple takes responsibility and remind us that's exactly how it wants it.

    I think the Apple strategy is more honest, if honest means anything.

    As Waldo, inadvertently, pointed out Google has the perfect perfect political strategy—deflecting responsibility. How often do politicians shift blame to other administrations, offices, and commissions?

    f***, it just dawned on me that Google's distortion field is far more devious, strong, and insidious than Jobs'.

    PS
    Is Samsung's tagline for the Galaxy Tab, "Feel free"?

  1. Phoible

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: Feb 2000

    -3

    Not Really True

    A locked bootloader only protects the kernel, but it is still possible to modify just about anything else other than the kernel. The Droid 2 and Droid X have signed/locked bootloaders, and they were quickly rooted. There are a number of ROMS out there that allow users to run a significantly modified OS (I'm running one that is built from essentially stock Android).

    The only thing that these ROMS CAN'T change is the kernel, which actually wouldn't change all that much anyways (at least for a given OS revision). It will likely make it impossible to upgrade the Android version before the manufacturer provides an upgrade, since the kernel version won't match (although I'm not convinced that this is necessary, since the kernel changes are only a few point releases between versions).

    It is even possible to load kernel modules into the Droid 2, which allows for the addition of kernel-level functionality. For example, users have been able to overclock with a kernel module, or add FUSE or VPN capabilities.

    Overall, these kind of concerns are somewhat overblown in most cases. It will definitely be possible to modify the Galaxy Tab to a much greater extent than the iPad.

  1. WaltFrench

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jun 2003

    +4

    So what percentage…

    of users will perform the necessary hacks to make these devices — as they are sold to the end consumer — “truly open?”

    Let me guess that fewer than 1% of users have the interest, resources or cojones to risk bricking their devices in order to bypass carriers' restrictions on upgrades, data plans, etc.

    So, would the appropriate motto for Android be, “In many cases, MORE THAN 1% OPEN!!!”

  1. WaltFrench

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jun 2003

    +5

    So what percentage...

    of users will perform the necessary hacks to make these devices -- as they are sold to the end consumer -- "truly open?"

    Let me guess that fewer than 1% of users have the interest, resources or cojones to risk bricking their devices in order to bypass carriers' restrictions on upgrades, data plans, etc.

    So, would the appropriate motto for Android be, "In many cases, MORE THAN 1% OPEN!!!"

    Special THANKS to electronista's sophisticated commenting system, embracing all the goodness of the 1986 upgrade to the ASCII table!

  1. facebook_Tralfaz

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Dec 2010

    +1

    Lemmings

    Apple maintains control over its brand and experience. When people get pissed off Apple takes responsibility and remind us that's exactly how it wants it.

    Take it like a good lemming...enjoy the Apple.


  1. SudoBaker

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Feb 2011

    0

    Clearly Clueless

    Wow you clearly are clueless. There is no effective way of stopping us devs from doing what we want with these devices. Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing oh and did I forget to say nothing they do can stop us. Put what ever protect c*** you want on there we'll pick it apart. They say this about every new device that comes out. And their always proven wrong everytime. So please don't go reporting lies. Oh and lockedbootloaders don't matter either. Stop me if you can... but you can't. Lol.

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