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RIM Probes Rooted PlayBook Tablet Claim

Research in Motion is investigating claims that hackers have ‘rooted’ its Playbook tablet

On by Tom Jowitt 0

The security credentials of Research in Motion are being called into question again after it emerged that three hackers have exploited a vulnerability in its PlayBook tablet to gain root access to the device.

By “rooting” the PlayBook, the hackers have gained full access to the device. In Apple parlance this process is described as “jailbreaking”, but essentially it allows the hacker to alter any file or program on the tablet, and can even customise its hardware settings, such as overclocking the processor, or boosting the battery life.

Last month, Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet was quickly rooted by hackers, but the news that hackers have managed to crack the PlayBook will be causing some red faces over at RIM, after it spent years establishing a reputation for security with its BlackBerry handsets.

RIM Investigating

RIM has said it is investigating the claim, and if rooting of the PlayBook is confirmed, it will release a patch to plug the hole.

“Research In Motion (RIM) is aware of a claim made on Twitter by security researchers working together that suggests the ability to “jailbreak” a BlackBerry PlayBook tablet,” the company said in an official statement. “BlackBerry smartphone users are not affected. RIM is currently investigating this claim and has been in contact with one of the security researchers to discuss it.”

The statement continued, “If it is determined that the claim is accurate, RIM will follow its standard response process to develop and release a software update that is designed to minimise adverse impact to our customers or carrier partners. RIM is aware that the security researchers have stated they intend to release a tool to jailbreak the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. If such a tool is released, RIM will investigate it.”

PlayBook Rooted

The rooting of the QNX operating system on PlayBook was reportedly carried out by three hackers identified as xpvqs, neuralic and Chris Wade (CMW). They announced their intention to release a tool called DingleBerry within the next week to allow others to root the PlayBook.

They even posted a YouTube video of the rooted PlayBook in action.

Apparently this rooting persists across reboots of the PlayBook and can be done with PlayBook’s running different versions of QNX. And the root access reportedly remains intact, even when one version of the operating system is upgraded.

So far, the hackers have managed to get the streaming video service Hulu running on the PlayBook, despite it not being available for the tablet.

Unwelcome News

The news that PlayBook has been rooted  will not be welcomed by RIM, as it struggles to shore up its crumbling market share in the mobile sector.

The PlayBook has faced analyst concerns that it is not selling well amid confusion over its pricing, but the one advantange that RIM had over its Android and iOS competition was its much-vaunted security software.

In April, GCHQ revealed that it prefers RIM devices over Apple’s iPhone and others for handling government data. In July, the PlayBook became the first tablet device to win a security certification in America, which essentially approved it for US government use.

Tom Jowitt
Author: Tom Jowitt
Freelance TechWeek Reporter
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