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Updated with a quote from Motorola below.
Motorola’s next flagship smartphone, the Droid X on Verizon, hits stores today– but you might want to think twice if you’re hoping to hack the device.
Motorola has apparently locked down the phone to the point where any modification attempts — including “rooting” the phone to install unauthorized apps, or changing its firmware — could render it completely inoperable (or “bricked”). The only way to fix it is to return the phone to Motorola, reports the Android fansite MyDroidWorld.
The company is using a technology called eFuse to secure the device. It runs when the phone boots up, and it checks to make sure that the phone’s firmware, kernel information, and bootloader are legit before it actually lets you use the device. Here’s MyDroidWorld’s explanation:
If the eFuse failes to verify this information then the eFuse receives a command to “blow the fuse” or “trip the fuse”. This results in the booting process becoming corrupted and resulting in a permanent bricking of the Phone. This FailSafe is activated anytime the bootloader is tampered with or any of the above three parts of the phone has been tampered with.
For most users, this isn’t something they’ll have to worry about. But for the hacker and modification community, it’s a significant issue with the device — particularly since Motorola’s wildly successful Droid phone didn’t have any of these restrictions. It also seems antithetical to the Android operating system’s open philosophy — although we’ve seen similar instances of carriers and manufacturers locking down Android phones, like AT&T did with the HTC Aria.
Locking down Android phones isn’t anything new for Motorola. The company issued a response to complaints about the practice for other phones earlier this year, in which it recommended that customers purchase a Nexus One or Google Developer phone if they really want to tinker. But this marks the first time that Motorola’s security techniques will actually kill your device. MyDroidWorld reports that Motorola is aiming to implement the same technology in its Droid 2 Android phone, due for release sometime this summer.
It seems a strange move for Motorola — whose ad campaign touts the endlessly customizable Android operating system, and appears to be directed at exactly the sort of customer who would want to modify their devices.
When asked for comment about eFuse and this lockdown approach, a Motorola representative replied with the following:
Motorola’s primary focus is the security of our end users and protection of their data, while also meeting carrier, partner and legal requirements. The Droid X and a majority of Android consumer devices on the market today have a secured bootloader.
In reference specifically to eFuse, the technology is not loaded with the purpose of preventing a consumer device from functioning, but rather ensuring for the user that the device only runs on updated and tested versions of software. If a device attempts to boot with unapproved software, it will go into recovery mode, and can re-boot once approved software is re-installed. Checking for a valid software configuration is a common practice within the industry to protect the user against potential malicious software threats. Motorola has been a long time advocate of open platforms and provides a number of resources to developers to foster the ecosystem including tools and access to devices for developers via MOTODEV at http://developer.motorola.com.