Friday, 13 July 2012

Locking myself out

I've become quite adept with Android ROMs of late. In the last month I've re-flashed my HTC Legend at least eight times, one of them a desperate measure to get back in after idiotic inattentiveness.
The after-market firmware scene is amazingly vibrant, and I'm typing this post on Cyanogenmod's CM7.2, which brings Gingerbread (Android 2.3) to my two-year old device, something the manufacturer has no intentions of doing. Just as in my previous post about digital legacy, the open-source community is doing what vendors simply won't, and surprisingly well. I'm so pleased I've even offered to upgrade a (decidedly untechnical) friend's Legend.
Doing this requires bypassing the vendor's OS locks - "rooting" - and optionally the firmware locks. By default, open ROMs leave these locks off to preserve your Newfoundland freedom. There's a problem there.
Yes, I want to continue hacking away, but I'm not comfortable leaving root accessible for my friend's device. A diagnostic mechanism called USB Debugging doesn't reset itself on reboots rendering the screen lock rather useless. The Cyanogenmod authors have stated root access will be off by default from version 9 (Android 4.0) onwards, but the Tom I tried on my device (so very close to useable) had no such measure.
Should a rooted and reflashed device be misplaced or stolen, the new owner could quite easily get in. Remote wipe and location apps can be disabled (Link2SD makes this trivial) and data compromised. As a network administrator I wouldn't let one of these devices anywhere near my messaging system, since the policy enforcement engines rely in unprivileged users to function.
I could of course re-applt the vendor recovery software to prevent the OS image being altered, and re-enable firmware controls to stop this being undermines, but this is all moot once the OS can do as it pleases.
Open-source software thrives on freedom, and I love that attitude, but ensuring a well-controlled network often works against that when viewed from certain angles. So, what path?
Security systems relying on obscurity of design have repeatedly been subverted, but how do you convince open-sourcers to build effective blockouts into their project?

Perhaps by helping them realise the real loss their moms and kids might experience when their unrelentingly open device is abused?

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