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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Android L is for Lockdown
Root is, without a doubt, the (un)holy grail of the Android world. Those wonderful permissions that allow you as the user to pretty much do as you please with your device are certainly a major delight, and really one of the top reasons why Android devices have gained as much popularity as they have–not just among end users but among developers as well. There is yet another aspect of the OS that keeps people coming back for more, and that is the fresh, constant stream of updates and new OS versions. However, these two can hardly coexist with one another. Normally, whenever a new update for … well… anything comes out, it does so with features, bug fixes, and plugged holes. The latter are the ones that are normally required to obtain things such as root level access on our devices. This means that if you update, for the most part, you can kiss root goodbye. Granted, there are apps that will help root survive even an OTA upgrade but still companies making these OS and devices always are on the look out to ensure that the holes and exploits are plugged.
The latest and greatest installment of our beloved Android OS is Lollipop (Android 5), which is something that has been on pretty much everyone’s mouth in the tech world for the last week or so as it became available in the latest and most functionalDeveloper Preview. The latest Lollipop installment is build version LPX13D, and aside from being one step closer to the final release, this one also brings the kiss of death for root, which pretty much is the case with all updates as we mentioned earlier. No biggie, right? We simply root again and be done with it, right? Or we simply use a root survival app and we keep going, right?? Nah, not exactly. There are several changes in device security, prompted in part by people and companies seeking the security and sanctuary of their precious data and nude pics. So, with that in mind, Google came to the rescue.
XDA Senior Recognized Developer and Senior Moderator Chainfire has been warning us of all the upcoming changes in the Android world for quite some time now, especially since the newer Jelly Bean and KitKat updates hit the shelves. Well, so far, we can officially say that he has been dead on target on everything he has said regarding the increased security on new versions of Android. The newest Lollipop update, LPX13D, seems to break root, like most updates do. However, it seems to do more than just break it because with the correct combination of factors, a device can become unrootable. Chainfire goes on to explain that the reason why root gets “broken” is mainly because the script required to grant root is no longer allowed to run at boot time from init.d, but rather it is forced to run from a SELinux dedicated context instead. This, apparently, is a new requirement for all apps and services running at boot.
The solution that Chainfire provides is to enable root at kernel level. In other words, you need a custom kernel in order to obtain root. However, many times, you need root in order to flash a custom kernel. Fine, some of you might say that by flashing via custom recovery, that the kernel can be flashed with ease. What if the bootloader is locked? Better yet, what if the bootloader cannot be unlocked? Yup, you got yourself a stock device forever (or until someone gets past the security measures). Essentially, Google is giving manufacturers a golden opportunity to put root access to rest for good. They will not do it to their devices, as the Nexus line has an unlockable bootloader, but no one can guarantee the case will be the same for other manufacturers.
The question then becomes, would the OEMs be willing to close off the devices for good, particularly considering that a large chunk of the sales come from word of mouth? Once Lollipop starts rolling out in its final form, it will be mighty interesting to see which OEMs go in what direction. One thing is for sure, these are trying times for people who enjoy their devices because of the freedom they have with root level access. Once you face the crossroad, which direction will you take?