Huawei E587 (T-Mobile 4G Sonic Hotspot): Information and rooting

Earlier this year, I got my hands on the T-Mobile 4G Sonic Hotspot and as always, had to tear it apart as soon as I got it. I never wrote about it because I didn’t find anything overly interesting, but now it’s the end of the year, and I need to clear some inventory from my brain. If anyone remembers my post on the (older) T-Mobile 4G Hotspot (sans “Sonic”), the main limitation of that device was that the processor is an obscure one that required some digging to get information on. Thankfully, the Sonic variety is much easier to break into.

Teardown

I don’t usually do this, but as I couldn’t find any good snapshots of the insides of this device, I took it upon myself to produce some amateur shots. One thing I want to say about the insides is that I loved how the main board is broken into three parts and they’re sandwiched together to make the device small (but thick).

Device with faceplate removed.

Device with faceplate removed.

MCIMX283CVM4B

FreeScale MCIMX283CVM4B

Qualcomm MDM8220 modem

Qualcomm MDM8220 modem

Middle layer, containing various chips

Middle layer, containing various chips

The important information is that the device is ARM based (it even uses the same system-on-chip as older Kindles), and having a well documented SoC is always a plus. There isn’t an obvious debug serial port, but I would bet that there is one knowing how the FreeScale SoCs work. However, we don’t need to explore hardware hacking yet as the software is unexplored.

Rooting

This was literally the easiest device I’ve ever rooted. I can honestly say that from opening the package (knowing nothing about the device) to getting a root shell took me about fifteen minutes. There was only one interface to the device and that’s the management webpage. My plan was to explore every location where I could pass input to the device (settings, HTTP POST requests, MicroSD file browser, etc) and basically just try things until I get a crash or something interesting. The first thing I’ve tried was the settings backup/restore feature. Creating a backup of the settings allows you to download a SQLite database containing the settings. A quick SQL dump of the settings showed me some interesting options that can’t be set directly from the web interface, including:

CREATE TABLE telnet
(
TelnetStatus int
);

Yep, setting TelnetStatus to 1 and restoring the backup database showed me that port 23 was now open from the hotspot’s IP. Well, that was extremely lucky, as always the best hacks are the one which doesn’t require hacking at all. Well that was only half the challenge, the next part is getting access to the root account. I’m thinking everything from brute forcing passwords to looking at privilege escalation exploits but all of that disappeared as soon as I typed “root” and enter because there was no password prompt. That’s right, “root” doesn’t require a password. I did a quick inventory of the filesystem and found the block devices, and using the magic of dd, nc, and the old Unix pipe, quickly dumped all the filesystems.

Software

Here’s the thing though, I spent all this time (almost 45 minutes at this point!) rooting the device and I don’t even have a clear goal. I don’t need to unlock the device because I was a T-Mobile customer at that point, and I didn’t really want to make a pocket ARM computer/server (which would be a thing one can do with this), so I just did a quick scan of how the device works (curiosity is the best excuse) and went my way. Here’s some of the things I’ve discovered, use this information how you will.

First of all, the device runs a stripped down build of Android running “Linux version 2.6.31 (e5@e587) (gcc version 4.4.0 (GCC) ) #1 Sun Aug 28 02:25:47 CST 2011.” On startup, most of the vanilla Android processes (including adbd) are not started, but instead the Qualcomm modem driver, some pppd/networking daemons, and a custom software they call “cms” are started. “cms” makes sure stuff like their custom httpd (which is hard coded to allow the HTML portal site to perform functions on the hotspot) and power management and the OLED display are running and in good status. The Huawi device stores all data on its flash MTD device. From a quick analysis (aka, might be errors), block 0 contains the u-boot bootloader (in what I believe is a format dictated by FreeScale), block 3 contains the kernel (gzipped with a custom header, possible also dictated by FreeScale), block 4 contains the rootfs (also gzipped with a custom header) loaded with boot scripts and busybox, block 5 is Android’s /system which also contains the main binaries (like cms, httpd) and the HTML pages, block 6 is Android’s /data which is empty, block 8 maps to /mnt/backup which I believe is, as the name says, just backups, block 12 maps to /mnt/flash which I believe is where ephemeral data like logs are and also where the settings are stored, and block 13 maps to /mnt/cdrom which has Huewai’s software and drivers for connecting to the computer with (and you see it when you plug the device into your computer).

That’s a quick summary of some of the things I’ve found while poking around this device. Nothing interesting (unless you’re a Huawei E587 fanatic I guess), but I’m sure there’s someone, someday, who got here from Google.

PlayStation Vita: the progress and the plan

Sorry that it’s been a while since I’ve said anything about the Vita. I was caught by surprise the last time of all the media attention from just a simple call for help. While I still don’t want to say too much right now, I do want to answer some common questions I’ve been getting and also go over what needs to be done.

If this is news to you, please read this interview I’ve done a while ago about it.

Did you hack the Vita? That’s a very vague question. What I have done, is run native code on the Vita with the same permissions as the game being exploited. This means I can load homebrews written and optimized for the Vita’s CPU and take full advantage of the CPU speed and RAM (unlike the PSP emulator or PSM, both impose artificial limits on resources and system functions). What has NOT been done (yet) is unlocking the system completely for tasks like USB interfacing, custom themes/system mods/plugins, and (fortunately) pirating games.

What’s UVLoader and how far along is it? The last I’ve spoken, I was beginning work on UVL and asked for any help I could get. Even though, I did not really get help, I did find people who were interested in what I was doing and we exchanged information. I also want to brag that I finished the main functionalities of UVL in a couple of weeks, and it has been “done” for about three months now. (Quotes around “done” because I decided to not worry about some features yet). That means, I can basically load most (most being the few that I manually built without an open sdk) compiled homebrews. You can run your standard hello worlds and spinning cubes and such, but in theory, it should load any homebrew built.

When’s the release? What’s taking so long? So as I’ve said, the loader was done three months ago. I have a couple of reasons for not releasing yet. The main reason is that currently, there is no open SDK for compiling and linking Vita homebrew like pspsdk did for the PSP. That means, even with the loader, it would be useless for users because there are no homebrew games, emulators, etc to run, and it would be useless for developers because they can’t build homebrews either. So what’s the progress on the open sdk? Zero, as I’m typing this right now. I have an idea of what it should look like and I spoke to a couple of people who are interested in helping, but so far, no code is written. Why is that? Because for me, I am very busy with lots of other unrelated things, and unfortunately, only me and a handful of other people know enough about the device and the executable format and etc to make the open sdk and none of us have the time currently.

The second reason is that having a Vita exploit at this stage (when it is really hard to find exploits) is very rare if not a once in a lifetime thing. Me and others I’ve talked to agree that right now it’s more important to use this exploit to gather more information about the system in order to find more exploits and such than it is to run homebrews right now. We have PSM for homebrew games and PSP emulator for homebrew emulators, so there really isn’t a huge demand for native PSVita homebrews yet. As I’ll expand on below, we’ve only scratched the surface of Vita hacking and there’s so much more to see.

Are you looking for testers/can I test UVLoader? There’s no need to “test” UVLoader right now because, as I’ve stated before, there isn’t any compiled homebrew and nothing to compile them anyways. Yes, UVL works with some of the custom still I’ve built manually, but it is unwise to write complex stuff without a working SDK.

Can help? Depends who you are. If you’re an established reverse engineer, you know how to contact me. If you just want to “beta test,” read above. If you know any other way of helping me, don’t ask, just do it™, since UVL is open source. Even though I don’t accept monetary donations before I release anything, if you have access to broken Vitas, memory cards, games, etc, or any unused hardware reversing tools like logic analyzers; anything you wouldn’t mind parting with, one of the things me and others involved don’t have access to is funds for materials to test some of the more… risky ideas and if you could help with that respect, just use the contact link at the top of the page to get in touch with me.

What needs to be done to “hack” the Vita? Again, that term is very vague, but I know what you mean. This is the perfect time to describe (as far as I know) the Vita’s security structure and what needs to be done at each level.

PSP emulator

I’ll start with the PSP emulator just because that is what’s “hacked” right now. How much control do you have of the Vita when you use vHBL? Almost none. On the PSP itself, games are “sandboxed” (meaning some other process tells it what functions of the PSP can be used by the current game, main thing being that one game can’t load another game). Because the Vita emulates the PSP, it also emulates this structure.

PSP kernel

One level up, we have “kernel exploits” on the PSP, which means that we are no longer limited to what functions of the PSP we can use. Any PSP function that is emulated by the Vita can be used, that’s why you see ISO loading as the main thing. However, all of this, the PSP emulator, sits in the Vita game sandbox. This sandbox is just like the PSP one, in that another Vita process tells the game (in this case, the PSP emulator running some PSP game) what Vita functions can be used in a similar fashion. For example, if a game doesn’t explicitly declare that it’s going to use the camera or bluetooth (and Sony approves), any code that tries to use these functions will crash.

Vita userland

This is where UVLoader works; we exploited some game to run code inside it’s sandbox, meaning that if that game doesn’t have camera functions, no UVLoader Vita homebrew can use the camera either. This also means, of course, we can’t load pirated Vita games and so on. A fun fact here is that, in theory, if someone finds an exploit in Kermit, the system inside the PSP emulator that talks to the Vita through a virtual serial port, they can run UVLoader in the process hosting the emulator (one level higher than a PSP kernel exploit), meaning they may be able to modify the emulator to have more RAM or faster CPU or etc. Another advantage of running UVLoader here is that because the PSP emulator has access to more Vita hardware than most games (bluetooth, camera, etc), homebrews could have more access too.

However, it’s easier said than done. It’s hard to appreciate  how hard it is to get a Vita userland exploit. Let’s work backwards: we want to somehow run native ARM code, how? Well, the classic route is some stack smash. But wait, modern ARM processors have XN (eXecute Never), which is a feature that only allow code in memory to run at specific locations (these locations are determined by the kernel and are read only). Ok, we have some other choices here: heap overflows, ROP (google if you don’t know), and so on (assuming you even know you got a working exploit, which in itself is hard to know without additional information; most “crashes” are useless), but all of these choices require that you know enough about the system to create a payload fitted for the system. That means, you need either a memory sniffer or somehow dump the memory. Well, let’s rule out hardware memory sniffing since the Vita has the RAM on the same system-on-a-chip as the CPU. How do we dump the memory then? Usually, you need to run some code to dump the memory or do some kind of oracle attack on crashes or error messages or something. Option one only works if we hacked the system before, and the second one, AFAIK, won’t work because the Vita doesn’t give any information when it crashes. So how did I get the first userland exploit? I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader…

Vita kernel (lv2?)

Vita userland is the most we have access right now and PSP kernel mode is the most that is public. What comes after? Remember all information at this point could be wrong and is based off of the little evidence I have currently. We are in the Vita sandbox right now, which means we can run homebrew, but we can’t use functions that the game doesn’t use (camera, bluetooth, USB, etc). We also can’t modify the system (run Linux, change the theme, add plugins, etc). For those to work, we need to go one level up: the Vita kernel, which might be called lv2. Even with complete userland access, we can’t even poke at the kernel. The kernel acts like a black box, providing functions to the system through syscalls. You pass input into these syscalls and it returns some output, without revealing how the output is created. The kernel’s memory is separate from userland obviously, and even guessing what syscalls do (there’s no names in the memory, only numbers) is a challenge. In order to hack the kernel, we have a problem that is very much like the one I’ve stated above about getting Vita userland, except with even more limitations. Again, there’s the circular problem of needing a kernel RAM dump to inspect for exploits and requiring a kernel exploit to dump the RAM. Now, there’s even less “places” to inspect (visually and programmatically). In order of likelihood, one of the following needs to happen before there’s even a CHANCE of a kernel exploit: 1) Sony does something stupid like the PS3 keys leak, 2) we get REALLY lucky and basically stumble upon an exploit by just testing one of the several hundreds of syscalls with one of an infinite amount of different inputs, 3) some information leaks out from Sony HQ.

It’s still unknown how much control we would have if kernel mode is compromised, but me and some others think that we MAY at least be able to do something like a homebrew enabler (HEN) that patches signature checks temporarily until reboot, allowing for homebrews with no sandbox limitations (access to camera, BT, etc) and POSSIBILITY system plugins and themes. It is very unlikely at any keys will be found at this point or being able to create or run a CFW.

Hypervisor? (lv1?)

At this point, it is purely a thought experiment, as we literally have no information beyond what we THINK the kernel does. It is highly possible that there is a hypervisor that makes sure everything running is signed and the kernel isn’t acting up and such. Getting to this would be EVEN HARDER than getting kernel, which I already think is impossible. Even at kernel, it seems to be over my skill limit, but this would definitely be above me, and someone with real skills would have to attack this. I’m thinking at least, decaps will have to be attempted here. If somehow this gets hacked, we may be able to run CFWs, but like the PS3 before the lv0, newer firmwares would not be able to be CFW’d until…

Bootloader? (lv0?)

Again, only conjecture at this point, but this is the holy grail, the final boss. Once this is compromised, the Vita would be “hacked” in every sense of the word. We may never get here (and by never, I mean maybe 5-10 years, but I would most likely not be working on the Vita at this point). Here’s is where I think the keys are stored. With this compromised, CFW of any past, present, or future firmwares could be created, and anything would be possible.

Summary

I guess to summarize, the reason there’s no release in the foreseeable future isn’t just because I don’t have time to make an sdk so there won’t be homebrews to use even if UVL is released. Even if the SDK does get done, at this point, it would be more attractive to use the control we currently have, double down, and try to get more control. If the exploit is revealed prematurely, getting the game pulled, and the firmware patched, sure we may get a fast N64 emulator in a couple of months when somebody has the chance to write it (and at that point, most people might be enticed to upgrade anyways for new firmware features and PSN access), but we will have to start at square one (read above about finding userland exploits) before having another chance at exploring the full potential of the system. Deep down, I am a researcher, and would have more interest in reversing the system than I would at making a release for users just so I could be the “first”. Like all gambles, I may end up with nothing, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.