Since at least the time of the release of the first generation Apple iPhone, sophisticated smartphone users have been working diligently to jailbreak their devices in order to load their own software, install third-party applications and make other modifications. Now, one Android device, the G2 from HTC, has the ability to roll back modifications and restore the phone to its original state.
The new HTC G2 being sold by T-Mobile is one of a handful of phones that run the Google Android mobile operating system, which is touted as an open platform, often in contrast to Apple’s iOS. Reports surfaced on Wednesday that the new phone also has a hidden capability that is designed to roll back any modifications made to the G2 after a user has jailbroken the device. If a user is able to root the G2 and install a new operating system or other software, the device will erase those changes and revert to the factory configuration upon the next reboot.
Some reports have termed this functionality a rootkit, because of its persistence and ability to make unwanted changes to the device. However, security researchers say that the G2’s ability to revert to its original factory state is by no means a rootkit and likely doesn’t violate the Apache open-source license that Android uses.
“In reality, the NAND storage on the phone is
simply ignoring any writes that have been made to the /system partition,
allowing it to be restored to a pristine state on each boot. Only authorized updates are able to make
permanent changes to the firmware on the NAND. Obviously that statement only holds true until someone figures out how
to bypass the mechanism,” said Jon Oberheide, a security researcher and co-founder of startup Scio Security.
Apple has gone back and forth for several years with iPhone users who have been jailbreaking their devices from the beginning, occasionally releasing new software packages that prevent certain jailbreak methods. But the user community has stayed a step ahead of Apple for the most part, and millions of iPhone users now have jailbroken devices running apps that haven’t been approved by Apple.
Owners of Android devices has followed suit, and there has been nothing in the way of backlash. But wireless carriers can modify the devices before they’re sold, and adding a hardware capability to restore the phone to its original state could be something that occurs more often in the near future.