Alleged PlayBook hack leading RIM to fork in the road?

by Nestor E. Arellano

As if the ignominy of having to slash the price of its first tablet device where not enough, Research In Motion it appears now has to investigate reports that company’s supposed iron clad operating system has been cracked by a trio of hackers identified only as xpvqs, neuralic and Chris Wade.

Nestor Arellano

A Twitter post by Wade claimed that PlayBook had been rooted. “I will be releasing an installer for it in a week,” Wade tweeted. 

neuralic, then posted a video of the root which they named DingleBerry, on YouTube.  Here’s the video which shows what appears to be a PlayBook’s backlighting features being controlled through a laptop.

The root works with both the beta build of the PlayBook’s QNX operating system and newer versions, the root’s creators said. The root gives users privileged access to the core OS. Root-level access to a device would enable an attacker to compromise private data and transactions on the device. 

BlackBerry phones do not use the QNX system now installed on PlayBook tablets, but future RIM smartphones will be running on the newer OS by next year. 

RIM said it will be investigating the claim. If a jailbreak is confirmed, the company said it will release a patch to plug the breach. 

A lot is a stake here for the Canadian smartphone maker. The reputation of its BlackBerry devices rests in the vaunted operating system. While Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OSs are frequent targets of outside attacks or jailbreak exploits by the device’s owners, a BlackBerry breach in relatively rare. 

But if such a root does exist, could it be all that bad for RIM?  

Despite its very secure system, BlackBerry has gone through a very rapid slide in popularity in the face of the recent bring your own device (BYOD) trend that has seen corporate environment (the BlackBerry’s traditional stronghold) invaded by iPhones and Android devices. 

The scarcity of apps in RIM’s App World has also been a common argument against the PlayBook. 

Would it not be benefit the RIM tablet if the popular Android OS could be ported on the device thereby providing the PlayBook immediate access to the Android Market’s ever growing inventory of applications? 

A liberal approach towards allowing users to take advantage of back door entrances into their mobile operating systems seems to be working well for Google and Microsoft. By lowering barriers, the two companies have allowed mobile app developers and technically inclined users to create applications for the phones more freely. Indeed the degree of customization users gain out of Android devices increase their desirability. 

However, should RIM take this path the company could be discarding a hard earned reputation for security that has differentiated its brand from other mobile devices.  

This reputation has been RIM product’s selling point in the corporate environment. Without it, BlackBerries become just another smartphone.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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