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Passwords and data can easily be obtained through a backdoor in Palm OS, even if a Palm device is "locked".

That's the conclusion of researchers at security firm @stake who have discovered that the "system lockout" function in Palm OS security, which means a device will not work until the correct password is entered, can easily be bypassed.

Earlier research by @stake showed that the use of passwords to mark records at "private" could be broken, and the latest findings show that even the lockout mechanism in Palm OS cannot be relied upon for protection.

The reason? Debugging functions in Palm OS, normally use to debug executables or administer on databases on a device, are operational even if Palm's lockout functionality is enabled.

Because of this it's possible for an unauthorised user could retrieve an encoded form of the system password, obtaining all database and record information on the device, and install or delete applications.

Chris Wysopal, @stake's director of research and development, said the issue is important because the system lockout mechanism is currently assumed by most users to protect information on their Palm devices.

"If someone has physical access to a Palm, there's no way to make sure data is secure unless its encrypted," according to Wysopal. Users should consider using third party encryption applications to protect their sensitive data, he recommends.

Better data security protection for Palm devices will come with the release of Palm OS v4.0, which is expected this Spring. However in some cases it will not be possible to upgrade older devices to this operating system even when it does become available. ®

External links:
Security advisory by @stake

Related stories:
Linux to push Palm off PDA pole position - Sharp
New Palm 'imminent' - next week, in fact
PocketPC wins marketshare from Palm
Palm confident of successful 2001

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