Kill switch triggered if modders tamper with new Android smartphone

Smartphones have increasingly become targets of hax0rs looking to modify user interfaces, unlock suppressed features, and remove carrier and other restrictions. Doing so usually violates the terms of service attached to the devices, and bricked phones can often result if online tutorials aren’t followed to the letter. Now, according to a report on TechCrunch, Motorola’s latest Android offering has a built-in kill switch designed to thwart would-be modders.

Dubbed eFuse, this kill switch will trip an internal fuse in the new Droid X if anything messes with the device’s firmware, kernel, or bootloader. Phones that are bricked as a result of the eFuse can reportedly be resurrected, but only with a hardware fix available through Motorola.

Enterprising hackers will probably find a way around the eFuse in time. Still, it’s interesting to note that Motorola is being even more aggressive than Apple on this front. Plenty of folks have inadvertently bricked their iPhones while applying various "Jailbreak" methods, but as far as we know, the device lacks an iFuse or equivalent functionality.

Comments closed
    • juampa_valve_rde
    • 9 years ago

    A killswitch to avoid the software change/update? Android is free software, why they have this crazy idea… one more reason to avoid this company.

    If i buy a phone with a contract, the contract is for the service! not the phone functionality.

      • WaltC
      • 9 years ago

      Here’s a quote from the original e-fuse forum post, so that you can read the quote as opposed to reading one of it’s many interpretations by 3rd parties:

      /[

    • gavinjcd
    • 9 years ago

    This would be interesting if it didn’t involve a motorola phone. Now I haven’t seen any of the newer phones but in my experience Motorola phones are junk and shouldn’t be used by anyone.

    So this isn’t that important.

    • ssway
    • 9 years ago

    I don’t care because I won’t be giving any $$ to a company that puts a ‘kill switch’ in something they are trying to sell me. Good luck with that folks.

    • Ashbringer
    • 9 years ago

    Very disappointing that companies are fighting back. This is what consumers want, then let them have it. I modded everyone phone I’ve owned for the past ten years. My latest phone is a G1 with CyanogenMod-6, which means I’m using Android Froyo.

    This also just makes a consumer service nightmare, when people are returning phones when they trigger the kill switch. Certainly won’t leave a good impression on Motorola.

    • lilbuddhaman
    • 9 years ago

    I’m waiting for the “My phone killed itself” reports…

    Here’s a few theories:
    -Leave your phone in a hot car, fuse is activated due to excessive heat
    -A bug in a firmware upgrade causes whomever tries to use it to brick their own phones
    -Someone is able to text/email/send you a bad program that activates the kill fuse.

    • LSDX
    • 9 years ago

    What a nice target for malware.
    “Send XX $ / € to our account within 24 hours. A 12 character key will be send to your email account. If this key isn’t entered within 24 hours, kill switch will be triggered”

      • xtremevarun
      • 9 years ago

      give this man some money to make a movie right now

        • UberGerbil
        • 9 years ago

        It needs one more sentence of fleshing out (so we can figure out which Big Names to attach for the hero, villain, and romantic interest) but then, yes, it’s an idea for a pitch for a treatment for a screenplay.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 9 years ago

    I so the core prupose for jailbreaking a android phone is piracy of software since the OS and its apps are not of the same limiting nature seen on apple devices.

    In the end I see a function that in no way harms legit users unlike DRM that hurts users and not pirates since they don’t deal with it. The kill switch is invisible to legit users and poison to theifs.

    I would be weary of apps that might trigger this killswitch though what if some one drops a bot inside a free app that would cause this upon use.

    The only reason this seems like a bad Idea is because 3rd parties, pirates/hackers and the like could turn this on legit users in such a fashion, and probably will just to make a point, like the hacker attacks on ubisoft servers.

    • sluggo
    • 9 years ago

    Kudos to the Moto design crew. Exactly the right kind of response to hacking.

    Want to customize the UI? No problem, the tools to do so are free. Want to paint it green? Go ahead, it’s your phone. Want to interrupt the revenue stream that pays our salaries and allows you to buy the phone at far below cost? Nuh-uh. Not going to happen.

    I’d like to see a little Mission: Impossible smoke emitter built in to really rub it in when the hacker f’s up.

      • ludi
      • 9 years ago

      /[

        • sluggo
        • 9 years ago

        Okay, if that’s the case, then why wouldn’t a hacker just buy the unlocked version of the phone for $550 and save himself the trouble of all that paperwork and cancellation penalties? It seems to me there must be a compelling reason for Moto to go to this trouble, other than just wanting to p*ss off the fringes of it’s customer base. What am I missing here?

          • mcnabney
          • 9 years ago

          That isn’t what is being done here. You can go out and buy a Droid X today and then take it to Cricket and activate it there. The hacks allow custom boots which give the user a great deal of control. Overclocking. Installing beta builds of Android. Idiots do this, break the device, and return it to Verizon and Verizon sends it back to Motorola for warranty replacement. Motorola doesn’t want to pay the cost of replacing devices that were willfully broken by the users.

            • Manabu
            • 9 years ago

            > Motorola doesn’t want to pay the cost of replacing devices that were willfully broken by the users.

            That is not true. If they don’t wanted that, they would simply make the phone hackable. I never head about an bricked notebook due to the user trying to install a new version of windows or a linux. It always can be solved with an boot CD, or something like that. If you know how to “break”, you most likelly will know how to fix.

            This happens because the PC is an more open plataform, that don’t try to control what OS the user can install. But phone manufacturers love wasting consumer money into treacherous computing technology, so that if you don’t liked WM6.5, you can’t install or make dual boot with Megoo or Android, even if the hardware is absolutely capable of that. You must buy a new cellphone. The same if you want WM7 in the future. And they can also put more monopolistic prices due senseless diferentiation on software. And they can lock basic features, like app2sd, only to unlock it latter and wait for the cheering.

            • sluggo
            • 9 years ago

            I disagree about about the PC being a more open platform. Just like the Motorola phone, PC’s from Dell, HP, and others all have hardware that’s capable of more than what the manufacturer is willing to support. Consequently, you can’t go into an OEM BIOS and overclock the CPU, change memory timings, or alter system voltages or fan speeds. If I hack the BIOS on an OEM PC and brick the unit or toast the memory with boosted voltages, should I expect the manufacturer to honor the warranty? Doesn’t the manufacturer have a right to protect their revenue model?

            • JrezIN
            • 9 years ago

            No. They have no “right” to that.
            The revenue model they’ve it’s their risk to take, it’s no excuse to lock-in costumers into limited functionality because of that, and it’s no obligation of legal authorities to protect crazy and risk revenue models.

            The “rights” people should talk here are the costumer rights. We have lots of them, and it’s not because we’re entering into a digital age that this rights should be ignored.

            • Manabu
            • 9 years ago

            Ok, overclock is a different matter, I did not talked about it. I talked about the freedom for the user change the crappy UI or built-in apps that the manufacturer or carrier put there, or updating for a new version, or changing the OS to another one, make dual-boot, etc. There is no hardware limitation. The only reason the phone can brick currently is because artificial limitations that the manufacturers put there using treacherous computing. They have control over the device after you buy it, not you.

            Still, I think that the user should be alowed to overclock his phone if he wants, voiding the waranty. I’m fine with a fuse or something that registers if the user oveclocked his phone, alowing the manufacturer to not honor the waranty in those cases. But I do not agree that this log by itself should brick the phone. There is nothing wrong with overcloking.

            • sluggo
            • 9 years ago

            Ah, okay, thanks for that explanation. I misread Motorola’s financial motivation for the change. I still like their response for 99.99% of their customers, but maybe a no-fuse, no-warranty model could be made available for the customers who like to experiment.

      • JrezIN
      • 9 years ago

      You really don’t know what you’re talking about, do you?
      (and I don’t expect honest response…)

      [Okay, okay… can be quiet… just need to write that changing software and the bootloader are really related in Android platform…. and painting it green or tethering have about the same requirements, root permissions… so, what #15 is saying makes absolute no sense at all! ]

      • sreams
      • 9 years ago

      If I want to load a different OS onto my phone, I should be able to without a hardware failure. If you want to argue that the 1 or 2 year contract somehow disallows this, what about when the contract is up? I own the phone at that point without strings, so I should be able to do with it as I please.

    • UberGerbil
    • 9 years ago

    So it turns out that Droid eye really is the one inside the T1 terminator?

    • Bensam123
    • 9 years ago

    It looks cool at least? (if that’s what appears when it’s tripped)

    • kalizec
    • 9 years ago

    Imho companies that design such intentional defects into their products should be persecuted for willful and malicious malpractice. Then again, the same opinion applies to DRM.

      • UberGerbil
      • 9 years ago

      Actually, the law runs the other way, since the the DMCA specifically states g[

        • mattthemuppet
        • 9 years ago

        just one of the many joys of democracy in the US 🙂

          • l33t-g4m3r
          • 9 years ago

          Two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner.
          However, we live in a constitutional republic, not a democracy.

            • Duck
            • 9 years ago

            We? Speak for yourself 😉

      • miken
      • 9 years ago

      When a law is passed that you don’t like, it doesn’t mean the system isn’t working. When an ideology other than your own wins, it doesn’t mean the system is corrupt.

      And whenever a law is passed / defeated, the other side, those who like the decision, cry “The system works!”

      Cynicism is cool. In a room full of optimist and one cynic, the cynic seems smarter. Negative opinions have greater psychological weight than positive opinions, independent of whether they are true.

      I’m far more disappointed by the prevalence — no, ubiquitousness — of conspiracy theorists, corruption cynics, and simplistic world views among the general populace than by the actions of the government. The dummies outside of government simply outnumber those within it.

        • BooTs
        • 9 years ago

        The person who buys the phone has to buy it with “features” that offer them nothing, and handicap the device. Who would willingly buy something with such “features” intentionally and knowingly?

        The consumer pays for anti-consumer (pro-manufacturer) features.

        • sreams
        • 9 years ago

        This is closer to the truth:

        When a law is passed that you like, it doesn’t mean the system is working. When an ideology that is your own wins, it doesn’t mean the system isn’t corrupt.

    • albundy
    • 9 years ago

    why is motorola still in business? and who buys their sub-featured over-priced phones?

    • Corrado
    • 9 years ago

    A buddy of mine got a Droid X today. He’s also returning today. Interface is garbage and slow, call quality was sub-par and it refuses to connect to VPN despite a stock Droid 1, a Froyo’d Droid 1, a stock Evo 4G and a stock Samsung Android phone connecting just fine with the exact same settings.

      • mcnabney
      • 9 years ago

      Are you at work in an AT&T store or office while you posted that?

      Couldn’t comment on the VPN since I don’t know what secure software you are using. I loaded Touchdown in a snap today. No problems. And the interface is far snappier than the previous Droid or the recent Incredible.

    • ludi
    • 9 years ago

    Unless the “hardware fix from Motorola” involves replacing the entire system board in the phone, this will be relatively easy to get around, since the existence of the fix implies a narrow scope of hardware to target for de-breakeage.

      • ybf
      • 9 years ago

      I don’t think they’re much worried about that, since there are very few people willing to chisel a chip off a board in their $500 phone.

      It will effectively prevent the easy romming that people enjoy with most Android devices.

      Which is going to limit the market for Droid X units.

      The other thing going against it is that it comes with Android 2.1 by default. 2.2 has been in the wild for several months, and is available as the default on other handsets. Having to use “last year’s model” software on the newest hardware gives the Droid X a stink of lameness it shouldn’t deserve.

      Regardless, the camera looks to be redonkulous, and will probably make up sales for anyone who doesn’t know a rom from a rebus.

        • Majiir Paktu
        • 9 years ago

        Is it possible to (legitimately) upgrade the software from 2.1 to 2.2, or are buyers stuck with whatever they get?

    • KarateBob
    • 9 years ago

    If this is implemented the same way as IBM’s eFuse’s used in the Xbox 360, if you desoldered a resistor on the motherboard, it would prevent eFuses from blowing.

    • sweatshopking
    • 9 years ago

    This will not survive. that’s the whole point of android. carriers that offer “unlocked” phones with no kill switch will (hopefully, but people are dumb) sell better, and encourage more openness in the market.

      • Corrado
      • 9 years ago

      No, the whole point of Android was to provide carriers and manufacturers an open system that they could easily customize to their needs, not necessarily so that end users could hack their devices away.

    • bdwilcox
    • 9 years ago

    eFuse crack in 3…2…1…

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