A trio of computer hackers has "jail-broken" Research In Motion Ltd. PlayBook tablet computer, gaining root access to operating system files and raising questions about security as it pitches the PlayBook to corporate and government clients.
The Waterloo, Ont.-based company said it is investigating the issue, but stressed that it wouldn't affect any of its current corporate or government customers, or BlackBerry smartphone users. The company said it will patch the hole in the next software upgrade.
Chris Wade, an Australian technology specialist based in Manhattan, said in an interview Wednesday that it was relatively easy to hack into the BlackBerry tablet and that the only reason someone hadn't done so before was because the PlayBook and other RIM devices lack the type of market share that make it worth hacking into.
Mr. Wade and his colleagues have made an application that users can download to their home computers. Once the PlayBook is connected to the computer, users follow directions to gain root access to the PlayBook's core files. In a YouTube video, Mr. Wade demonstrates how their "exploit" allows PlayBook users to watch video on the online TV and movie service Hulu, which blocks access on mobile devices.
"RIM is currently not aware of a jailbreak being leveraged by anyone other than the researchers, who claim to have performed a jailbreak on their own BlackBerry PlayBook tablets only," the company said in a statement. "If it is determined that the claim is accurate, RIM will follow its standard response process to develop and release a software update that is designed to minimize adverse impact to our customers or carrier partners."
Mr. Wade said this first breach allows hackers to go deeper within RIM's tablet and find additional features to manipulate. Apple Inc.'s iPhone has been the target of similar jailbreaks for years and the company has been repeatedly forced to upgrade security features. Mr. Wade believes that as the PlayBook finds a wider audience, RIM will have to do the same.
"This is going to be a big wakeup call for [RIM]" he said. "This is … a huge hole in the PlayBook – it's one that RIM should have known about and should have fixed and it's sort of a joke that RIM … managed to get certification from the government."
The PlayBook was the first tablet certified for use by the U.S. federal government, and RIM is set on making an increased push for its relatively weak-selling tablet when it gets a crucial software upgrade in early 2012.
Mr. Wade and his partners, who wished to remain anonymous, said they will soon release their application to Dingleberry.it, where users can download it to jailbreak their own tablets. He noted that with the PlayBook, which has been selling for a consumer-friendly $200, RIM should be prepared for more hacking attacks.
"Now that it's opened up, you're going to see a lot more attacks on RIM," Mr. Wade said. "It may actually even boost RIM's sales."