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Android phone auto reverts jailbreaks

T-Mobile firmware rollback squashes modders

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

A new Android smartphone from T-Mobile ships with hardware that thwarts jailbreakers by automatically restoring modified devices to their original factory state.

The HTC G2, which began shipping on Tuesday, reinstalls the original firmware when it is rebooted, much to the chagrin of would-be jailbreakers trying to root the device so they can run their own software and third-party apps not approved by T-Mobile. While they managed to modify the smartphone, they soon found those changes were undone as soon as they rebooted the device.

The discovery has generated howls of protest from those who believe that people who buy hardware devices ought to be able to use them however they see fit. Apple has long closed jailbreak holes in iOS updates and Texas Instruments lobbed legal threats at hobbyist who posted the cryptographic keys used to modify calculators. Google even has the ability to remotely install or uninstall apps on Android phones.

But HTC seems to have upped the ante with a hardware-based approach to meddlesome users who have the gall – and often the expertise – to shun the self-serving restrictions put in place by device and OS manufacturers.

It's not entirely clear how the devices are able to reset themselves. Blogger Lauren Weinstein speculates the new G2 “is using a firmware rewrite system to replace '/system' mods with the 'official' firmware upon reboot.” Security researcher Jon Oberheide tells Threatpost much the same thing. Both say it's too early to tell if there's a way to defeat the rollback mechanism.

What we can say for now is that the anti-jailbreak capability is sure to offend a core group of Android enthusiasts who are drawn to the mobile OS's open platform, which by definition can be modified by anyone. It's a pity, because there's a lot to like about the device, including its ability to play high def video seamlessly. Unless the jailbreak override can be overridden, consider it a deal breaker. ®

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