RIM vows to patch the security hole, if it is confirmed

The BlackBerry PlayBook is veteran Canadian smartphone maker Research in Motion, Ltd.'s (TSE:RIM) first crack at a modern tablet.  And with surprisingly solid hardware, access to Android's massive app catalog, and certain semi-exclusive high profile app titles (e.g. Dead Space) the PlayBook is a pretty attractive option.

Unfortunately it's just become a blemish on RIM's generally outstanding security record, if recent reports prove true.  Reportedly the PlayBook has been rooted by three OS hackers, whose handles are xpvqs, neuralic, and Chris Wade.   The hackers first announced their success on Twitter, then posted a video of the running exploit:

I. New Exploit Reportedly Works Across All Current QNX Versions

The alleged exploit used by the PlayBook hackers was dubbed "DingleBerry" -- a semi-profane slang term -- perhaps a disturbing play on the nickname "CrackBerry".

The BlackBerry PlayBook [Image Source: RIM]

According to the creators it works both with the beta preview channel build of the PlayBook's QNX operating system, and for all released versions.  It gives you privileged access to the core operating system files.  And it persists between updates.

There is some interest in using the root to perform a full-fledged port of Android to the PlayBook, perhaps in a dual-boot configuration with QNX to retain access to the core BlackBerry services.

RIM told Reuters that they are investigating the rooting incident and will issue a patch if indeed the vulnerability is real.

II. To Root or Not To Root

In the word of security vulnerabilities, there's all sorts of levels of severity, but the most serious is a vulnerability that grants the user super-user/"root"-level privileges in a operating system.     If a malicious attacker gains root access they can compromise all sorts of private data and personal interactions on a device, typically for financial gain.

On the other hand using vulnerabilties to root phones allows customers to overcome carrier and OEM restrictions placed on a device (i.e. "jailbreak" a device).  For example, rooting an iPhone allows you to install wallpapers rather than face the same old boring black screen, which Apple, Inc. (AAPL) mandates).

Some companies like Google Inc. (GOOG) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) have taken a tolerant approach [1][2] to rooting/jailbreaking.  Their basic premise is that if they allow savvy developers to find a certain "back door" with the promise of non-disclosure, then non-malicious hardware hackers will spend less time searching for vulnerabilities, less vulnerabilities won't be published, and malicious hackers may not have any easy path to root action.

Apple, on the other hand, has actively fought rooting efforts [1][2][3] by non-malicious jailbreakers as they represent a threat to its revenue stream by allowing third party non-App Store applications, which Apple doesn't get a cut of the revenue from.

RIM hasn't had to practice either approach for the most part, as its platform has been tightly secured.  And these days the company's waning popularity also helps lessen users' interest in rooting its device.  Along with other features, like enterprise-quality encryption on the core services, RIM has buillt up a reputation for fine mobile security.  That reputation has been a major selling point of BlackBerries in the corporate atmosphere.

Sources: YouTube, Reuters

"This week I got an iPhone. This weekend I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a land line so I can actually make phone calls." -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

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