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Google TV Hackers Open a Shell on the Chromecast; More Hacks To Follow 65

Posted by timothy
from the dude-this-costs-$35 dept.
Via Engadget comes the news that Google's latest (and quickly sold-out) toy, the Chromecast, may soon be hacked out of one-trick-pony status; just a few days after it came out, the folks at GTV Hacker have successfully turned their attention to the Chromecast, and managed to exploit the device's bootloader and spawn a root shell. Some interesting findings, as explained in their blog post: "[I]t’s actually a modified Google TV release, but with all of the Bionic / Dalvik stripped out and replaced with a single binary for Chromecast. Since the Marvell DE3005 SOC running this is a single core variant of the 88DE3100, most of the Google TV code was reused. So, although it’s not going to let you install an APK or anything, its origins: the bootloader, kernel, init scripts, binaries, are all from the Google TV. We are not ruling out the ability for this to become a Google TV 'stick.'"
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Google TV Hackers Open a Shell on the Chromecast; More Hacks To Follow

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  • Any Ideas? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @12:43PM (#44406877) Journal

    Google's "Chromebooks" have a fairly trivial (and documented/vendor-provided) mechanism for booting whatever you want on them. They default to using the crypto-tastic signed image; but it's not a hack to turn that off.

    The phones that they sell directly (at least if you don't count the...um...wonderful people at Motorola) also tend not to be terribly touchy on that score.

    Google TV devices, though, and now this 'Chromecast' thing they lock up tight. Are they trying to appease some paranoic video rightsholder? Is there some benefit to Google that I'm not seeing? Why the (comparatively) hands-off treatment of other devices compared to the freaking out about things that connect to TVs by default? It's doubly odd because many contemporary phones and tablets can connect to TVs, though that isn't their primary use case.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Netflix in particular won't have anything to do with any device that isn't locked down. Although rooted Android devices are a notable exception, apps have recently started attempting to test to see if the device is rooted so they can refuse to run if so. (With varying degrees of success presumably, since if you have root you can control what the app is allowed to see to a certain extent.)

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        Netflix in particular won't have anything to do with any device that isn't locked down. Although rooted Android devices are a notable exception, apps have recently started attempting to test to see if the device is rooted so they can refuse to run if so. (With varying degrees of success presumably, since if you have root you can control what the app is allowed to see to a certain extent.)

        yeah that would be a reason, but as you're saying that still doesn't rule out chromeos or android so.. wtf? there's a simpler explanation though. the reason is that they never got the google android tv UI "just right" - so they just went "fuck it" and now it's not a problem that most apps don't run.

        of course it sounds like it's very tinkering/enthusiasist unfriendly, but hey, it's fucking TV PEOPLE they hired to do decisions on the tv stuff.

        and fyi, thanks to fucking apple all the fucking companies are head

        • Re:Any Ideas? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by iluvcapra (782887) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @02:23PM (#44407409)

          "if we can't do it supercoolmegaright then don't do it at all and don't let the user to do it all"

          Users have a habit of loading up phone banks with the stuff that doesn't work mega-right, even if they had to do some mild circumvention in order to try in the first place.

          Google's goal (as with all of its hardware products) is to make something with no manual, no learning curve and no technical support, aside from user-supported forums, so they're going to be parsimonious about what they implement. They want you to buy the box, happily use it (to generate clickstream and view ads), and never mention the box to them again.

          • The same things are true of the stuff they don't bother to lock down, though. They certainly don't give a damn (outside of informal comments from certain of their developers that can be informative and helpful for not-immediately-obvious things like 'how do I boot a standard Linux distro on the ARM Chromebook?' ); but they seem content to make the 'get yourself in complex trouble' button not visible by default, except on Google TV devices.

    • Re:Any Ideas? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CastrTroy (595695) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @12:52PM (#44406919) Homepage
      It's obviously quite highly subsidized. At $35 for the Chromecast and 3 months of free Netflix (even with an existing account), the cost to existing Netflix subscribers is about $11. They are planning on making money from renting/selling movies on Google Play store, and probably more money through affiliate programs sending new customers to Netflix and other programs that will probably be on there in the future like Hulu and Amazon Prime. If everybody just buys them and installs another OS on them, they won't make much money. With the phones, tablets, and chromebooks, they are selling them above cost price, so they don't have to make up the difference by people renting movies and such.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Anyone could pickup 50 1.5GHz A9 usb/hdmi sticks with 512MB ram, 4GB flash and wifi for about $28 each from china (that's just from a very quick look for something from a reliable looking supplier). So it's really a question of how much you value the 3 months of netflix how much of a subsidy this thing has (with it's less flash, ports and what I'm guessing is a cheap as possible SoC). Personally I'd say it has no subsidy at all as I'm sure the hardware (including adding all duty/taxes) comes out under $3

        • by gl4ss (559668)

          I'd wager google didn't need to pay netflix at all and that the plan is to get people hooked.. to the sticks and to the services.

          Imagine the price for the sticks two years down the line, they'll be selling 5 bucks sticks for 30 then.

      • The Netflix free deal was over two days ago. I ordered one from Google and they explicitly said that there was no free Netflix other then the standard one month offer to new customers.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Doubtful. The Chromecast's hardware is dirt cheap to produce.

        Google's goal is ALWAYS to make the internet better and more accessible. More people on the internet = more ads revenue for Google. It's that simple.

        If a device of theirs is locked down, you can be sure it's because of some external influence. In this case, probably video "content owners".

      • by Anonymous Coward

        no it's not "obviously quite highly subsidized" and you'd know that if you just looked around for a comparable piece of hardware, specifically those we can easily order direct from China.

        So just maybe the idea to locking these up is because Google isn't making any money on them and the goal is to break the stranglehold on TV content providers have. Google has had a tough time getting vendors to join them in their various TV ventures. So by flooding the market with cheap devices which pull content from the i

        • Google may make a little money off the Youtube ads.. this device, with two predicted extensions, is a *really* natural fit for something I've wanted... I've had many occasions where I've had a youtube clip up on my tablet and wanted to be able to click a button to watch it on the TV. Netflix to a slightly lesser extent, I often pull a video into my queue on my tablet to pull it up on my TV (since searching/navigating on a roku is a bit more cumbersome). This fill that niche for me. I'm thinking that Ple
      • by iluvcapra (782887)

        They are planning on making money from renting/selling movies on Google Play store, and probably more money through affiliate programs sending new customers to Netflix and other programs that will probably be on there in the future like Hulu and Amazon Prime.

        I assume there's some value to the kind of user data they'd collect from such a stick as well -- Netflix has made a business out of trying to guess what movies people will like based on their past viewing, and now Google has this stick that knows not j

        • This is true; but their style seems to be (with the exception of Google TV devices, and anything 'Google+' has touched; because 'Social' is the leprosy of the internet...) the soft-sell. There is, presumably, a good bit of value in the ads displayed in Gmail inboxes; but they still let you use IMAP if you feel like it (they just know that most people won't, since the web interface is more convenient, and the option keeps the whiners happy).

          Google obviously has every interest in steering you toward their off

          • by iluvcapra (782887)

            What do you mean? The whole point of a box like this is they can collect this information without steering you toward they're offerings, while the usage information they collect make its offerings objectively better. The point is that since they're in your house and attached to your TV, they're mediating the TVs connection between you in the internet (or you and your wifi-attached media), just as Google proper mediates searches, and they can sample the clickstream that goes from you back to content provid

            • by mattack2 (1165421)

              Actually, a cable box from your cable company is not really a "low price", especially if you value a better user experience. Even if you include the it-sounds-like-a-lot lifetime (of the box) subscription price, buying your own Tivo (and subscription) is cheaper than using the cable company's crappy DVR (which you can't download shows from, but with a Tivo, you can download non-copy-protected shows, which for most cable companies means non-premium channels).. In less time than a cell phone service agreeme

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's obviously quite highly subsidized.

        Not according to TechCrunch [techcrunch.com]:

        The price? Surprise! It’s $35. Are you kidding me? According to Google, they’re not selling them at a loss.

    • by Thry (962012)

      Are they trying to appease some paranoic video rightsholder?

      Netflix seems to get a big say in these matters..

    • by thejynxed (831517)

      They probably are, considering how easy it's been for rightsholder's groups like the MPAA to dictate if such devices are allowed to be manufactured for sale.

    • by swillden (191260)

      It's doubly odd because many contemporary phones and tablets can connect to TVs, though that isn't their primary use case.

      I think you've got your answer right there.

      From a technical perspective, of course, it's not an answer at all, but look at it from the perspective of big media companies: On general-purpose computing devices they have no real say other than deciding if they do or don't want to lock their content out of the devices. Making that choice lowers the value of the devices a little, but it's not like device makers will allow the media industry to drive all their decisions. With media devices, however, which have

      • by iluvcapra (782887)

        At the moment there appears to be more growth in ads on Hulu Plus [hulu.com] and other Ten-Foot-Interface content companies than on mobile in general. Statistically people are more likely to watch an entire ad on Hulu than any other non-streaming cable method [techcrunch.com], and their CPMs are something like 10 times that of web ads, and those are twice over more than mobile ads.

        Mobile ads are mostly a bill of goods Google sells to advertisers, and users hacking around at the edges of that isn't very important -- ads on TV are ord

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Have IQs really dropped this low. There are an astonishing number of cheap, powerful Android USB 'stick' computers that are no more clunky than this garbage from Google, but are full blown, non-locked down computers that will run whatever software you desire. Experimenting with the Google dongle is a complete and total waste of time.

    It gets worse. Google and Apple are all about the 'protected path' from source to the pixels on your display. If their proprietary dongles (for that is what these things really

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TFlan91 (2615727)

      Devices where users only have to plug in and switch to the related input on their TV will win. Regardless of whatever techies moan and groan about, simplicity and elegance is what sells (did you not pay attention during the initial iPhone craze?)

      No one is going to want to buy an empty usb drive, install their own choice of OS, required streaming programs, etc, after-which they then have to CONFIGURE it (I know, scary word).. see where I'm going with this though? No average Joe or Jane is going to do that, t

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by mattsqz (1074613)
        i dont think anyone was advocating using an empty usb drive, which is nothing but a storage medium, in place of this. but rather, one of the many quad-core android jellybean hdmi dongles available from china for $30-80 (with varying hardware specs) such as this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkws05jsAH8 [youtube.com]
    • by spire3661 (1038968) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @01:24PM (#44407103) Journal
      Its CHEAP and backed by google. you would have more of a point if it werent so insanely cheap. I have lots of ways of getting video to my TVs I have an HDMi distribution panel that reaches every TV in the house, I have 3 win7 MCE DVRs, 3 Apple TVs + a mac mini that can stream anything to them., several Micca players, etc. I like Chromecast because its cheap, easy to use and I can slap one on every Tv for less then a single Apple TV. For the price, it represents a good value.
  • According to Chromecast's official support page, Linux isn't supported: https://support.google.com/chromecast/answer/3209990?hl=en [google.com]. I'm hearing mixed reports that it works, or doesn't, on various distros. At any rate, Google has done a lousy job of supporting the platform that made them rich (think Picasa for Linux, the non-existent Linux Drive client, etc.). I don't have a Chromecast. For one thing, it doesn't seem to do much more than my Blu-Ray and HDTV can already do. For another, I'm not sure I could
    • by Nerdfest (867930)

      I'm pretty annoyed by that as well. They do provide developer tools for Linux, but not the majority of the desktop stuff. I'd think they'd be pushing it to help people move away from the closed market that Windows and Apple both seem to be becoming.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        They want you to be using their closed market, google play, on a google sanctioned device running a google os(chromeos or android), they give, and always have given, very few fucks about free software on the desktop, anyone who believes otherwise is somewhat delusional.

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @03:30PM (#44407777) Homepage Journal

    Sure, its cool to have a USB sized PC in your pocket, but its not like there are not already 100's of them out there, that are NOT locked down.

    • by Threni (635302)

      It's time for someone to produce one of those things which actually work. That would be a novelty.

    • its not like there are not already 100's of them out there

      That depends on whether home users are aware that these "already 100's of them" exist. A lot of them are sold only online, not in brick-and-mortar stores where one is already shopping for other things, and they aren't promoted very well. Google can back the Chromecast with marketing muscle in Latin-alphabet markets that a no-name Chinese company can't really match.

      • by nurb432 (527695)

        But 'home users' wont be going out and trying to load an alternative OS on their device. Those that will want to do this know about the more open alternatives.

        My comments are about why bother 'rooting' it, not using it.

        • Perhaps my question is how people are supposed to learn of the benefits of owning open hardware in the first place. If all the existing computing devices in your household are closed, you never get a chance to see what open hardware can do.
          • by nurb432 (527695)

            The reality is that most people really don't care. They just want a toaster.

          • by nhat11 (1608159)

            My parents and a lot of people not in the IT field could care less, they just want it to work and be convenient at the same time.

            • by tepples (727027)
              But if an application that someone wants to use is not available for the platform that he happens to have because of the platform's business model, then it doesn't "just work".
    • by symbolset (646467) *
      I have some of these Android sticks. They are not so dead simple to use as Chromecast. The controllers universally suck. I'm actually using a Chromecast on an old Samsung LED monitor right now and it works great! Instead of getting TV's I can just get monitors now. I'm going to check out my local surplus shack where monitors can be had for $50. Might have to get a DVI female to HDMI male adapter. If I can put that together we might be getting a lot of Chromecast devices. If they open the spec wide,
      • by nurb432 (527695)

        As mentioned above, i'm not talking about the 'raw' device as shipped, i'm talking about people that want to hack into it and spend the time and trouble figuring out how.

        If you want to hack something, why not choose something more hack friendly?

        If all you want to do is use it, then perhaps it is a better choice. ( until i see one, ill hold judgement )

        • by symbolset (646467) *
          Oh. Never mind then. Definitely for hackable ARM platforms there are plenty better to choose from.
    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      Sure, its cool to have a USB sized PC in your pocket, but its not like there are not already 100's of them out there, that are NOT locked down.

      No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

  • Alibaba is full of them for a similar price to chromecast.
    • But to what extent have these manufacturers managed to convince the general public in North America and Western Europe to go to Alibaba and buy their Google TV sticks? Marketing and promotion are big parts of doing business.
      • by DrXym (126579)
        I don't disagree, but this comment was made in the context of a story about hacking the chromecast, i.e. not the general public. If you want to hack on something, why not buy something for the same price which has more RAM, more flash memory, a better CPU and can perform in a similar role?
  • Linux isn't a supported desktop OS, according to the Chromecast website.

    Disappointed, but not surprised that Google would again ignore the community running the same type OS they themselves use to create wares for the inch-deep, mile-wide consumer space.

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