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.

Unlocking T-Mobile 4G Hotspot (ZTE MF61): A case study

So, I have one of these MiFi clone from T-Mobile and want to unlock it to use on AT&T (I know that AT&T 4G/3G isn’t supported, but I thought maybe I could fix that later). The first thing I tried to do was contact T-Mobile, as they are usually very liberal concerning unlock codes. However, this time, T-Mobile (or, as they claim, the manufacture) isn’t so generous. So I’ve decided to take it upon myself to do it. I will write down the entire procedure here as a case study on how to “reverse engineer” a new device. However, in no way do I consider myself an expert, so feel free to bash me in the comments on what I did wrong. Also, I have decided against releasing any binaries or patches because phone unlocking is a grey area (although it is legal here), but if you read along you should be able to repeat what I did, even though I will also try to generalize.

Getting information

The hardest part of any hack is the figuring-out-how-to-start phase. That’s always tricky. But… let the games begin.

-Wheatley, Portal 2

So before we can do anything, we need to know what to do. The best place to begin is to look at the updater. A quick look at the extracted files, we find that the files being flashed have names such as “amss.mbn”, “dsp1.mbn”, and such. A quick scan with a hex editor, we see that the files are unencrypted and unsigned. That’s good news because it means we have the ability to change the code. A quick Google search shows us that these files are firmware files for Qualcomm basebands. Now, we need to find more information on this Qualcomm chip. You may try some more Google-fu, but I took another path and took apart the device (not recommended if it’s any more complicated). In this case, I found that we are dealing with a Qualcomm MDM8200A device. Google that and you’ll find more information such as there are two DSP processors for the modem and on “apps” ARM processor (presumably for T-Mobile’s custom firmare, and is what you see as the web interface). We want to unlock the device, so I assume the work is done in the DSP processor. That’s the first problem. QDSP6 (I found this name through more Google skills) is not a supported processor in IDA Pro, my go-to tool, so we need another way to disassemble it.

Disassembly

Some more Googling (I’m sure you can see a pattern on how this works now) leads me to this. QDSP6 is actually called “Hexagon” by Qualcomm and they kindly provided an EBI and programmer’s guide. I guessed from the documents that there is a toolchain, but no more information is provided about it. More searching lead me to believe that the in-house toolchain is proprietary, but luckily, there is an open source implementation that is being worked on. Having the toolchain means that we can use “objdump”, the 2nd most popular disassembly tool [Citation Needed]. So, it’s just a matter of sending dsp1.mbn and dsp2.mbn into objdump -x? Nope. It seems that our friends at ZTE either purposely or automatically (as part of the linker) stripped the “section headers” of the ELF file. I did a quick read of the ELF specifications and found that the “section headers” are not required for the program to run, but provides information for linking and such. What we did have was the “program headers”, which is sort of a stripped down version of the section headers. (Program headers only tell: 1) where each “section” is located in file and where to load it in memory, 2) is it program or data?, 3) readable? writable?, while section headers give more information like the name of each section and more on what the program/data section’s purpose is). What I then did is wrote my own section headers using the program headers as a guide and made up the names and other information (because they are not used in the actual disassembling anyways) with a hex editor. Then I pasted my headers into the file, changed some offsets, and objdump -x surrendered the assembly code. 180MB worth of it.

Assembly

So we have 180MB worth of code written in a language that could very well be greek. Luckily, as I’ve mentioned earlier, Qualcomm released a document detailing the QDSP assembly language and how it’s used. Most likely, you would be dealing with a more “popular” processor like ARM or x86 and would have access to more resources. However, for QDSP6/Hexagon, we have two PDF documents and that is basically the Bible that we need to memorize. I then spend a couple of hours learning this new assembly language (assembly isn’t that hard once you embrace it) and figured out the basics needed to reverse engineer (that is: jumps, store/loads, and arithmetic). Now, another problem arises. We have literally 3 million lines of assembly code with no function names, no symbols, and no “sections”. How do we find where the goal (the function that checks the NCK key and unlocks the device accordantly) without spending the next two years decoding this mess? Here, we need to do some assumptions. First, we know   (through Google) that the AT modem command for inputting the NCK key is AT+ZNCK=”keyhere” for ZTE devices. So, let’s look for “ZNCK” in the hex editor of dsp1.mbn and dsp2.mbn. (If you are not as lucky and don’t know what the AT command is, I would put money that the command will contain the word NCK, so just search that). In dsp2.mbn, we find a couple of results. One of the results is in a group of other AT commands. Each command is next to a 4-byte hex value and a bunch of zero padding. I would guess that it is a jump table and the hex values are the memory locations of the functions to jump to. Doing a quick memory to file offset conversion (from our ELF program header), we locate the offset in our disassembly dump to find that it starts an “allocframe” instruction. That means we are at the beginning of a function so our assumptions must be right. Now, we can get to the crux of the problem, which is figuring out how the keycheck works.

Mapping out the functions

We now know where the function of interest starts, but we don’t know where it ends. It’s easy to find out though, look for a jump to lr (in this case for this processor, it’s a instruction to jump r31). We start at the beginning of the function and we copy all the instruction until we see a non-conditional jump. We paste the data into another text file (for easier reference). Then we go to the next location in the disassembly (where it would have jumped to) and copy the instruction until we see another non-conditional jump, and then paste them into the second text file. Keep doing this until you see a jump to r31. We now have most of the function. Notice I kept saying “non-conditional” jumps. That’s because first, we just need the code that ALWAYS runs, just to filter out stuff we don’t need. Now, we should get the other branches just so we have more information. To do this, just follow each jump or function call in the same way as we did for the main function. I would also recommend writing some labels like “branch1″ and “func1″ for each jump just so you can easily locate two jumps to the same location and such. I would also recommend only doing this up to three “levels” max (three function calls or three jumps) because it could get real messy real quick, and we will need more information so we can filter out un-needed code, as I will detail in the next section.

Finding data references

Right now, we are almost completely blind. All we know is what code is run. We don’t know the names of functions or what they do, and it would take forever to “map” every function and every function every function calls (and so on). So we need to obtain some information. The best would be to see what data the code is using. For this processor (and likely many others), a “global pointer” is used to refer to some constant data. So, look for references to “gp” in the disassembly. Searching from the very beginning of the program, we find that the global pointer is set to 0×3500000, and according to the ELF headers, that is a section of the dsp2.mbn file at some file offset. In the section we care about, look for references to “gp” and use the offsets you find to locate the data they refer to. I would recommend adding some comments about them in the code so we don’t forget about them. Now, the global pointer isn’t everything, we can have regular hard-coded pointers to constant areas of memory. Look for setting of registers to large numbers. These are likely parameters to function calls that are too big to be just numerical data and are more likely pointers. Use the ELF header to translate the memory locations to file offsets. In this case (for this processor), some values may be split into rS.h and rS.l, these are memory locations that are too “large” to be set in the register at once. Just convert rS.h into a 16 bit integer, rS.l into a 16 bit integer (both might require zero padding in front), then combine them into one 32 bit integer where rS.h’s value is in front of rS.l’s value. For example, we have: r1.h = #384; r1.l = #4624. That will make r1 == 0×1801210. You should also make some comments in the code about the data that is being used. Now, predict standard library calls. This may be the hardest step because it involves guessing and incorrect guessing may make other guess more wrong. You don’t have much information to go by, but you know 1) the values of some of the data being passed into function calls, and 2) library calls will usually be near the start of the program, or at least very far away from the current function. This will be harder if the function you are trying to map is already near the beginning of the program. The function I’m mapping is found at 0xf84c54, and most function calls are close to it. When I see a function call to 0xb02760, I know that it might be a library call. 3) Some of the more “common” functions and the types of parameters they accept. You don’t need to figure out all of the library calls, just enough to get an idea of what the code is doing so you don’t try to map out these functions (trying to map out strcpy, for example will get messy real quick). For example, one function call, I see is taking in a data pointer from a “gp” offset, a string that contains “%s: %d”, and some more data. I will assume it is calling fprintf(). I see another function is being called many times throughout the code, and it always accepts two pointers where the second one may be a constant and a number. I will assume it is calling memcpy().

Translating

This may be the most boring part. You should have enough information now to try to write a higher language code that does what the assembly code says. I would recommend doing this because it is much easier to see logic this way. I used C and started by doing a “literal” transcription using stuff like “r0-r31″ as variable names and using goto. Then go back and try to simplify each section. In my process, I found that how the unlock key is checked is though sort of a hash function. It takes the user input, passes it through a huge algorithm of and/or/add/sub of more than 1000 lines and takes the result and compares it to a hard coded value in the NV ram (storage area for the device). Here, I made a choice to not go through and re-code this algorithm for two reasons. First, it would be of little use, as the key check doesn’t use a known value like the IMEI and relies on a hard coded value in the NV ram that you need to extract (which a regular user might have trouble doing). Second, after decoding it, we would have to do the algorithm backwards to find the key from the “known value” in the NV ram (and it could be that it would be impossible to work backwards). So I took the easy way out and made a 4-byte patch in where I let the program compare the known value to itself instead of to the generated hash from the input and flashed it to the device. Then I inputted a random key, and the device was unlocked.

Now, remember at the beginning I said the code was unsigned? Because of that I could easily have reflashed the firmware with my “custom” code. However, if your device has some way of preventing modified code from running, you may have no choice but to decode the algorithm.

Free 3G/EDGE internet on any T-Mobile phone without a data plan

Well, the secret is out. I refreshed my iPhone’s Cydia to find somebody selling “free T-Mobile Internet access”. I knew immediately what the method was, as I’ve been using it for almost a year now. Since it’s now public, and T-Mobile will close the hole anyways, I might as well help you save your money from these crappy “services”.

So what’s the “bug” that allows free internet? It seems like the stupidest thing in the world, and I’m almost certain that some technician left it in on purpose. Basically, any URL with the word “tmobile” is accessible without a data plan. (as long as your APN is set to epc.tmobile.net) So all you have to do is make a proxy site (aka PHProxy) with “tmobile” somewhere in the URL (tmobile.yoursite.com or freehost.com/tmobileproxy) and it would be accessible via your phone.

It gets better. As far as I know, the above is the only thing that’s “leaked”. Here’s some new information: the method above only allows web site browsing, there is a way to 1) not use a slow and unreliable proxy, and 2) work with all HTTP apps on the phone other then web browsers. If you append the string “?tmobile” at the end of the URL, it loads without fail. So just install a local proxy (like Privoxy, or a custom one) on your iPhone (or whatever smartphone) which adds “?tmobile” to the end of the URL (or “&tmobile” for pages with GET requests) and it will work.

If you don’t get a word I said, don’t worry. When I have time, I’ll post my custom proxy written in Python, or even post an iPhone Cydia package.

P.S: This method only works with HTTP requests (not HTTPS, or any other protocol). I have another, slower method of getting access to everything, but I’m not ready to reveal it yet.