Microsoft has quietly killed a vulnerability that can be exploited to unlock ARM-powered Windows RT tablets and boot non-Redmond-approved operating systems.
The Register has learned that one of the security holes addressed this week in the July edition of Microsoft's Patch Tuesday closes a backdoor left in Windows RT by its programmers during its development.
That backdoor can be exploited to unlock the slab's bootloader and start up an operating system of your choice, such as GNU/Linux or Android, provided it supports the underlying hardware.
Normally, Windows RT devices are locked down to only boot software cryptographically signed by Microsoft. That's left some Windows RT owners frustrated because they're unable to switch to another OS: the firmware refuses to accept non-Microsoft code, and curious minds have been trying for years now to defeat these defenses and run whatever they want. The bootloader cannot be unlocked even if you have administrator-level access on the device.
Jim Hall’s day job is chief information officer for Ramsey County in the US state of Minnesota. But outside of work, the CIO is also a contributor to a number of free software/open source projects, including FreeDOS: The project to create an open source, drop-in replacement for MS-DOS.
FreeDOS (it was originally dubbed ‘PD-DOS’ for ‘Public Domain DOS’, but the name was changed to reflect that it’s actually released under the GNU General Public License) dates back to June 1994, meaning it is just over 22 years old — a formidable lifespan compared to many open source projects.
“And if you consider the DOS platform, MS-DOS 1.0 dates back to 1981, ‘DOS’ as an operating system has been around for 35 years! That’s not too shabby,” Hall said. (Version 1.0 of MS-DOS — then marketed by IBM as PC DOS — was released in August 1981.)
Hall has been involved in free software since the early ’90s when he was an undergraduate physics student. He first installed Linux on his home computer in 1993. These days Hall is a member of the board of directors for the open source GNOME desktop environment. He's also the author of GNU Robots and as well as FreeDOS he has contributed to a number of open source projects.