The Droid X booby-trap controversy

Locked, Encryption, and a self-destruct button -- all over a cellphone?  It's not very often that I'm asked to write something and don't really want to write it. But there's this 800-pound gorilla in the room.  Of course, I'm talking about the insane idea that a phone manufacturer would design a phone that self-destructs when you try to hack or mod it.  If we're to believe what we read here at My Droid World (and there's no reason not to), the Droid X is exactly that.  Join me after the jump, and we can talk a bit about exactly what might be going on and how it may affect this devices future.

Update: No sooner than we posted this did Droid modder Steven Bird brings up some good points. One is that no Droid X's have exploded just yet, and that an OMAP3 eFUSE isn't really a new phenomenon. It's likely there will be some major hurdles to overcome before we see custom ROMs on the Droid X, and it's just as likely that some very smart and talented people will be working on it. We still wish Android hardware would remain open, however, and that won't change. Thanks to everyone who sent this in. - Phil

Supposedly the Droid X includes a new piece of hardware called an eFUSE.  Geeky types can read that link from EETimes.  It's not really a fuse, but it's used to open or change a circuit and bring things to a grinding halt, just like what happens when a fuse blows.  They're not bad things on their own.  They can have useful functions, like shutting down a microprocessor if the temperature gets too high, or stopping a motor controller when resistance gets past a certain point (like if a wrench or person were stuck in the drivetrain).  They're handy, and used in many things.

That's not what Motorola is doing with them.  Supposedly (you'll see that word a lot in this article.  Bare with me.) Motorola has designed a circuit that uses an eFUSE, or group of eFUSES, that can block the circuits of the X, causing it to not power on, if unsupported software is loaded on the phone.  In this case, unsupported means any software not specifically designed by Motorola.  (Commenters, go easy on me, I'm simplifying this on purpose.  I want everyone on the same page -- we can discuss logic, nand gates, and JTAG programming in another place. )  Even worse, this is permanent to us.  The phone will have to go back to Motorola for reconditioning to ever work again.  That's crazy. 

In a nutshell, if you try to enable the loading custom ROMS or flashing a new kernel, the X goes "click" and it's done.  Forever.  And there's no way you going to get warranty service on it, cause it happened when you were hacking at it.  That's what we think we know.  Until the first brave soul actually bricks his or her X, or Motorola comes out and verifies the information  (And you should Moto, and you know it.).  Until then, we wait.  And guess.

Now, what follows is purely my opinion, so you know who to yell at.  Android is open.  That's why we have the ability to do things like install a new keyboard, or replace the SMS application with Handcent.  And why people like Cyanogen and his team of merry douchesters can hack the living daylights out of things and create a better OS than Google or Motorola or HTC can.  Or why you can overclock last year's best phone, and make it run as well as this year's best phone.

Will most people want to hack new or different software on their X?  Probably not.  Will anyone really need to use a custom ROM on the X? Again, probably not.  But could a great phone be made even better if those that do want to were allowed? Maybe, but it's looking like we'll never know.  I wont name names, but those of you who still rock the OG Droid know who I mean, and you're the people I'm complaining with anyway.  More than a few well known hackers/developers/freakin Android geniuses have already written off the X, and won't be worried about working with it.

Shame on you, Motorola.  You know how you'll still sell a metric buttload of Droid X's, but you also know you could provide a way for those that feel the need to tinker to do so without frying their brand new $569.99 phone -- and you could digitally mark these phones to void the warranty.  Android users helped pull you out of the ashes -- don't write a good portion of them off.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Interesting. I guess this'll make my decision of whether or not to upgrade from my Droid OG to Droid X that much easier.
  • Guess I'll come out by saying the answer everyone wants to hear. with the a "special" bootloader (LEAK)
    it trips the efuse and erases the entire droid just flashing the new bootloader
    with the new bootloader on there, you can install a custom droidx sbf with root
    then you can put your own recovery/kernel ect Can you say Droid X Roms? I can.
  • I think that method is still very risky though. All the numbers of times people on XDA forums have complained about 1 step they accidentally skipped in a tutorial when hacking had a simple solution to just retrying it all over again. With the Droid X this time if you miss a step your will brick your phone for sure. Not everyone is perfect when it comes to hacking so I suggest those people to just enjoy the phone as it is. Otherwise those people that want to hack should go with the Fascinate which it's variants all have already been rooted before release.
  • This is not the Android platform I know... You speak the truth Jerry, give'em hell.
  • IMO this is the same type of thinking that led Moto to just pump out RAZRs for a couple years. Good thing both HTC and Samsung are making Android phones for Verizon. Speak with your wallet if this is an issue to you.
  • If you understand the ramifications and still buy this phone your contributing to the downfall of the Android platform. This is not what this platform was supposed to be. If this phone sells in high numbers (I am sure it will because people are stupid) you are essentially telling Verizon and Motorola that it is OK. If no one purchases the phone then they will change this behavior. Android is going to take over and we need to make a stand now before it gets out of control. These providers do not want us to have control over our phones but if we purchase the locked down versions it will only get worse. Verizon and Moto are sticking their toe in the water on this one and I fear that due to people's ignorance we will soon see the entire foot submerged. Hell I could swear that I can see the fat lady putting on her swim cap as I type this.
  • efuse has been debunked.
  • Link?
  • That post gives no useful information. Motorola has come out and stated they enabled security on the Droid X and Droid 2.
  • The Android Milestone and Droid has the same "efuse" on it too. It has been rooted. Has it blown up on anyone? No. It will just take longer but it can be done.
  • I'm not saying it cannot be done, but it is likely outside the capabilities of the modders to do so. A cryptographically signed bootloader is very very difficult to crack. THe milestone has withstood 8 months of attempts, and nobody is even CLOSE to cracking it.
  • Update: No sooner than we posted this did Droid modder Steven Bird brings up some good points. One is that no Droid X's have exploded just yet, and that an OMAP3 eFUSE isn't really a new phenomenon. It's likely there will be some major hurdles to overcome before we see custom ROMs on the Droid X, and it's just as likely that some very smart and talented people will be working on it. We still wish Android hardware would remain open, however, and that won't change. Thanks to everyone who sent this in. - Phil
  • You make a great point with the digital voiding. It would be very easy to have the eFUSE blacklist the phones' serial number in case a user tries to get warranty service.
  • Amazing, this is a major regression in customer treatment. I think these companies do not understand that when a customer buys their product, they should no longer have a say in what you do with it. I can buy a piece of wood from Home Depot. I can take that wood and cut it, shape it, sand it, polish it, why should a phone I pay for be any different?
  • While I am bummed out about this, being a person who enjoys his tinkering, you have to admit the analogy is not apt. Purchasing the phone on subsidy and tied to a contract means you will be beholden to their network. The network provider surely does not want to have to manage devices that do not conform to their specifications. With that being said, I think Motorola should just slap a BIG warranty void sticker on the device letting people know that they can do whatever they would like to do with it.
  • " The network provider surely does not want to have to manage devices that do not conform to their specifications." That should be handled in the ToS, not built into the hardware.
  • Hahaha no one even reads those things, much less abides by them. Face it, customers treat their provider in a "I will take whatever i can get" way (whether this is caused by the attitude of the provider is another argument) so if a customer can, say, root their phone and install a tether tool for free instead of paying $30 a month for the privilege (and all the extra bandwidth they will use) what person in their right mind wouldn't just go for the free option, regardless of the TOS? The Verizon TOS already has details like "you shall not download music, videos, or applications from the internet at large" that makes 90% of what users do illegal anyway... This is just another step in the arms race to keep a grip on what customers can do.
  • Oh I agree...most people don't read the ToS, let alone follow it. With that being said though, it still is the type of thing that does belong in there. I dislike DRM for the same reason, copyright law should sacrifice, I don't need people crippling the capability of what I buy, preventing me from doing legal things, in the name of helping me keep the law.
  • It sucks for anyone who wants to put a custom ROM on a powerful phone but the manufacturer wants to limit that so that they don't have to spend their money to fix a device when someone sends it back because they screwed up. It is their right as a manufacturer to do as they wish with the device regardless of how much some one hates it. If you don't want them to do it anymore, tell them, don't buy their devices and they will take notice.
  • Kills the deal for me. I'll be avoiding this thing like the plague.
  • Efuse will not stop the root. DroidMod Team is already working on it.
  • if the efuse doesn't stop them, the cryptographically signed bootloader will. 8 months, and nobody is even CLOSE to cracking the milestone. I seriously doubt they will make much (if any) progress cracking the Droid X.
  • Moto is walking a thin line and if they keep this up they will be regarded as the 'apple' of the android world. The irony is that they want a closed phone to operate within an open platform. Unbelievable.
  • You hit the nail on the head.
  • Bad move for motorola, maybe they will realize this and unlock the bootloader with an update. I love the look of the phone, but I love my droid for its awesome customization. Why get a phone that you can't do anything other dl apps (iPhone). So for now, I'm gonna stick with my original Droid. It's just as good.
  • swr2w3r2r
  • Gald i got the evo!!!
  • +1
  • It just seems such a shame to me. I know many people will never want to unlock and flash ROMs, but not even being given the ability to try without killing the device entirely just seems unreasonable and against the whole spirit of Android. And in a year's time, when better and faster devices are available, probably even from Motorola, why would it be even necessary to keep older devices still so impenetrable?
  • "Bare" with you? I ain't getting nekkid with no dude, Jerry, no matter how cute you may be.
  • If it's only a small percentage of hackers, probably around 5%, it's beyond me why Moto would go to extreme measures just to make sure their phone isn't tinkered with. Is it really worth it to be known as the new Apple? I've already seen numerous articles regarding this and trust me, now even the casual user is taking notice. If Moto would have just left this alone, no one would have even cared. Just let those nerds have fun but now you've shed a light upon you...
  • i guess im in the minority here. I mean, yeah-my Droid is Rooted, overclocked to 1ghz, and tethering wirelessly. I guess I TECHNICALLY have a custom ROM (FroYo 2.2) on it, but honestly-I get bored of the JRummy themes and roms, or Jairemo, or even Cyanogen-REALLY FRAKKIN" EASIALLY, and always revert back to stock (or FroYo in this case). It works fine for me like that.
  • FYI. If you are using Froyo on your DROID... you are NOT Stock. You will never be able to do something like that on the droid X. You will be completely at the Mercy of Motorola for ROM upgrades.
  • here's an interesting article at Boy Genius Reports: looks like this eFuse business might not be so serious after all?
  • Complete speculation by BGR. Motorola has pretty much come out and said they enabled security features on the Droid X. Regardless of whether or not the eFuse works, its still cryptographically signed. Good luck cracking that nut! The milestone has been out for 8 months and nobody is even CLOSE to cracking it.
  • never doubt the determination of the Android community. the Milestone simply has too few people working on it. Motorola HAS done a bad thing here, im not denying that, i just think people need to relax. i see this as a bump along the way to freedom with this phone. although a slightly large bump
  • The only thing "secure" is my resolve not to buy their offering, and bad mouth them to everyone that asks me what phone to buy. There's a reason I steered my brother to an HTC phone when he was ready to upgrade, instead of a Moto, and the reason was Moto's s****y stance on hacking your phones.
  • Made my decision to get a Samsung Vibrant that much easier.. Lets see the Samsung Vibrant is: * Has a faster GPU than the Droid X.
    * Has a better screen (SUPER AMOLED vs LCD) than the Droid X.
    * Has already been hacked/rooted.
    * Will cost me 17% less per month on T-Mobile. The only thing that the Vibrant doesn't have that the Droid X has, is all the hype and marketing money being dumped into the Droid X. The Vibrant is actually a better phone, and in 6 months, after the hype dies down and Motorola drops support for the Droid X and is releasing the latest and greatest Droid, the Droid X users are going to be whining about not getting the latest OS, while those Vibrant users will be able to load a custom ROM.
  • much for bashing iPhone for being locked down, aeh? Where's our next bandwagon? HPalm OS?
  • It is sad to realize that an Android phone is even more locked down that an iPhone. Apple may not care if your phone happens to get bricked by an update, but at least it doesn't go out of its way to brick it. This sort of security goes against the entire principle of Android, and Motorola should be ashamed of itself. Even if Google can't stop Motorola from crippling its own phones, they should denounce it loudly. After all, Google's brand reputation is just as much on the line (or maybe more so) if these phone brickings become widespread. It's times like this when I wish there were a Nexus 2 around the corner. HTC may be our best hope for creating a phone with the true Google Experience.
  • Everyone freaked out about bricked phones, repeat after me (this will be handy when you need to replace your phone): "I have no idea what a ROM is. I have no idea what a bootloader is. I have no idea what an e-fuse is. My phone is under warranty and I want it to work. I have no idea what a ROM is. I have no..."
  • If this turns out to be real, I'm going to hope it ends up backfiring on Motorola... where they have to replace a hundred thousand bricked phones after one of their own OTA updates or something. **** this ****.
  • i have a simple question since im new to android..what are custom roms?examples...would snesoid be one?
  • Custom roms are like cyanogenmod Google that and you will see what I mean.
  • It's sad that this came out on launch date I've posted on this back on Monday in the dx. Forums. But given that we wont know if its enabled until someone bricks one. Check out the market their is a petition up about this subject as we speak
  • F A I L
  • ▄██████████████▄▐█▄▄▄▄█▌
  • They're doing this to prevent warranty exchanges for the idiots that are trying to hack their phones and brick it. Replacing and fixing broken devices costs money. Wouldn't you be pissed at someone that keep breaking something and you have to fix or replace it? You should keep in mind that all phone manufacturers are going to start doing this, they're trying to protect the idiots from themselves. And if having to pay full retail for a brand new one because they voided their warranty then that's going to hurt their wallet, and pain is the best teacher.
  • Wow and you might be the idiot they are looking for. As far as I know there hasn't been ONE single solitary bricked Droid due to rooting and custom ROMs due to the .SBF and RSD being available. The only bricking of an Android handset that was somewhat known and reported was an OTA when Sprint bricked EVOs. From where I am standing the modding community is safer than an official OTA at this point.
  • As seeing I have come across not one thread in the Droid hacking section about people returning their phone due to it being bricked makes me think. But even still with the leak of the sbf and rsd light you shouldn't need to you brick sbf your phone
  • All I can say is that this is unfortunate. Not all consumers like their device vanilla or even the particular flavor that Motorola has to offer. Some of us get the phone simply for the fact that it supports android and has phenomenal specs. A lot of people jumped ship from T-Mobile when the Droid came out simply to get a more powerful device on a better network. Luckily the Droid wasn't locked down like a midevil chastity belt. But it seems that it will be the only Motorola device with its legs open as Motorola has locked down its younger children. It may take a large amount of time for these phones to get cracked but it most likely wont happen before the device is obsolete. Sad but I may just be getting a Samsung.
  • Meh. Seems too risky to me. Imagine Verizon/Motorola pushing out an update that bricks all the phones? Can you imagine the expense Motorola would then have to go to remedy the problem? I just don't think it's truly implemented in this fashion. Hold off a week and there'll be a hack for it. Anyway, this falls so closely on the heels of the (old) anti-rooting-moto blog post that someone dug up yesterday that it seems calculated to drive sales away from Moto's phones.
  • What really gets me about this is what about the people that buy this phone on a 2 year contract and motorola no longer supports the device with new versions of Android. Say you are out of your one year warranty but have a year remaining on your contract and locked into this phone. Then motorola decides not to upgrade to Android version 3.x. This will prohibit anyone of installing a customized version for this device on their own. Total BS.
  • I'd be willing to bet that if this is real (which i doubt it is), it's for a reason. Like Moto is trying to hide a vulnerability or poor performance. Yeah that would be poor engineering, but look at the iphone. You can do all kinds of things with a jailbroken iphone, a lot of which will cause it to run poorly which is why Apple locked it down in the first place. ...on another note, the Droid Incredible ain't lookin' so bad now is it?
  • They have 29 days and23 hours to figure this out or its going back.
  • Instead if whining likevlittle bitches, mabe you hackers need to upgrade yourv 733t skillz that you are aleays bragging about. Good for motorola for beating you
  • Instead of whining like little bitches, maybe you hackers need to upgrade your 733t skillz that you are always bragging about. Good for motorola for beating you
  • It just makes me want to crack it more! Its a challenge!
  • I would like to see one self destruct . I wonder if they have like a death countdown on it or something :p lol Maybe a Cool vid as it was doing it death dance , a android robot flopping around LOL
  • Did somebody say booby?
  • Why do more people want this phone more than a Galaxy S? The Galaxy S are much cheaper and in my opinion better. People complain about Samsungs update support but honestly, after the amount of effort they took to push the Galaxy S as their premier phone, I think 2.2 is right around the corner. Unlocked price for Captivate is confirmed $350 already by many users who are already purchasing them.
  • What could possibly go wrong with this? Would it be possible that some future upgrade triggered efuze and bricked a million phones? Gadzooks, the liability!
  • I thought really hard before I decided to say this.
    X gets rooted, everyone thinks that can and will happen.
    Some tool releases "super pron download app for root users", that really downloads something else, then tells the X to reboot recovery and flash boom.
  • Wait, so does the phone actually explode? Wouldn't there be a lawsuit over this? Or is the topic being overstated?
  • it's all of us being dramatic.
    When the part inside (the eFUSE) see's you've tried to install incorrectly signed software, it changes it's programming and shuts the phone down. The only way to fix it is to reprogram the eFUSE, which 99+% of end users and Verizon won't be able to do, even if the program and equipment was available.
  • Ok I understand why some people dont like the idea of them locking the boot loader. I do however understand why they did it. I wonder how many people have taken there droid in to get a replacement because they f'ed up the custom rom install(ie.. bricked it) because they did not know what they were doing. If it were me I would try and put a stop to it, to protect the idiots that dont know what they are doing. Now I do agree with releasing a phone that allows you to do it and you know the consequences if you do. I for one am not sure why the average person would care to mod the droid x. what are the top reason we mod our phones... 1. Faster processor
    2. Custom upgrades (updated software)
    3. Other features Lets see faster processor, yep it already has one, new software... well just means you have to wait for it just like everyone else does. It sucks but we android users have gotten to be a bunch of impatient bunch. And before the bashing starts let me remind you I am one of you and I hate waiting... If you are modding it so you can have other features on your phone guess what there are programs that allow you to do most of those things without flashing it. I dont have a flashed droid YET but I have a program that gives me up to 7 home screens. I guess bottom line is for the average user or even the first time modder or 90%+ of the people who own android phones. This will not effect them. I guess I have said my 2 cents for what it is worth.
  • if that's the case just write a code to the efuse that says the software was tampered with, when it was done, and that the warranty is violated. I don't care if all this is true or not true. Motorola has to know that the internet is abuzz about it, and they sit back and won't say a word. THAT pisses me off. Fear is not how you educate or control. My guess? It's not true, but Moto wants you and I to think it is, and that's BS.
  • I agree that is bs that they wont come out and say if it does or does not have it. but then again... give it a few days and see what the modders have to say about it then we will all know.. wont be able to install any other SDK's till they make it first anyway..
  • I only read like the first 20 comments, so don't get mad if this was already said, but... I don't see how motorola can do this legally. You PURCHASE this phone and therefore it is yours. How can they make it so that you cannot use it just because you changed something that is yours? Even if Verizon steps in and says they wanted this so that you cant have free tethering and whatnot, what about after your service is up? If I want a 4.3" MP3 player/PID who are VZW or Moto to say I cannot because I changed the OS? Voiding the warranty is obviously legal, but the company breaking your property and then voiding the warranty is crazy.
  • I went to the Verizon store near my work and they still had some at lunch time. I played a bit with it to decide if I was going to return my Incredible that I got two weeks ago after waiting a month to get it. Well I can say that I am keeping the Incredible. The X just did not wow me, it was nice but I think I like the Dinc better. The size of the X was not an issue at all, I asked to see one that was not chained down to slip into my pocket, it fit well. The large screen was nice but it seemed to not be as crisp as the Dinc. Along with that the transitions between home screens and apps were not as snappy as the Dinc. I defiantly prefer the Sense Ui over vanilla android or with the moto widgets on the X. I may have went for the X but with the above and the rumors of it being locked down like fort knox I am opting to keep my Dinc. That said it is an awesome Android phone that many will enjoy.
  • "Cyanogen and his team of merry douchesters can hack the living daylights out of things and create a better OS than Google or Motorola or HTC can" Hey, man Google and OEMs like Moto/HTC built a house, then Cyanogen came in and repainted it, changed some of the light bulbs, and put in a new sink