Hack allows Windows RT tablets to run unsigned non-Windows Store apps

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windowsrtunlocked

Nicaraguan security researcher clrokr has managed to unlock the kernel setting which prevents Windows RT devices from running unsigned code as found on desktop applications.

He exploited a security vulnerability which exists in Windows 8 and which was therefore also present in Windows RT, and also the fact that Microsoft allows Remote Debuggers to attach to user processes.

He managed to find the bit in RAM which tells the OS whether they should run Unsigned(0) apps, Authenticode(4) signed apps, Microsoft(8) signed apps or Windows(12) signed apps. By default Windows RT will only run Microsoft signed apps.

The hack will presumably not persist beyond a reboot, and enabling it does require a lot of expertise.

clrokr argues that the discovery shows that there is no essential difference between Windows 8 and Windows RT, and that users should have the ability to run desktop apps. On the other hand he does not seem to appreciate the advantages of restricting users to Metro apps in terms of security, simplicity and battery life.

Read more about the hack at his blog here.

It is unlikely that this hack will turn into a general use jailbreak solution, but such an outcome it not impossible.

Do our readers with their Surface tablets had the option to run non-Windows Store apps? Let us know below.



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  • Davey

    Hmmmm… Security would be a major concern with pieces of software made by anonymous devs. God only knows what kind of code could be running. Any apps for side loading would have to come from reputable sources.
    But!!!!… I would kill for decent enterprise apps for my Surface. Things like AutoCAD LT, PhotoShop Elements, and a full featured OUTLOOK!!!!! (I would pay for even a Metro version of Outlook).

    • Will Tisdale

      Why would security be a concern any more than it is in an x86 version of Windows? It’s the same system, just compiled for a different processor architecture. The security concerns are the same for x86 and ARM.

      • Davey

        Fair comment. It’s the whole negativity about “malware” in the android world that plays on your average Joe. It’s Microsoft’s way of trying to make you appreciate the walled garden and to fear the freedom of a jailbreak or open OS.

  • Guest

    It would be useful to have Photoshop on there, and Outlook but I doubt either program would run well enough on an ARM processor for it to be worthwhile. Best to hope for improvements and additions to the Windows Store apps and get an Atom based device if you still need desktop-based programs.

  • prettyconfusd

    It would be useful to have Photoshop on there, and Outlook but I doubt either program would run well enough on an ARM processor for it to be worthwhile. Best to hope for improvements and additions to the Windows Store apps and get an Atom based device if you still need desktop-based programs.

    • Davey

      While fully fledged Photoshop would struggle on a 1.3GHz quad core with 2GB of ram, Outlook shouldn’t have any problem. Now, if you were to port the more budget Photoshop Elements, that might be a different proposition…

  • joseph boutin

    i would like a native Flash download for sure. Also, to be able to play a full blown game like Farcry or Halo would be nice. Even if I do have to throttle the graphics settings a lot. I would LOVE my Surface then.

    • Davey

      Absolutely. I’ve frequently though an ARM port of the original Halo CE for x86 would run just fine on the surface. Actually there might have to be some jiggery pokery to get it talking to the NVidia Real engine on the Tegra 3.

      • Bugbog

        Missed opportunity, in my opinion. I really though Microsoft would have a killer game ready for launch with the Surface!

        Shame.

  • mlekas

    So now all you have to do is find some apps that were compiled for ARM, and with this hack you can use them…. or find an x86 emulator for RT.

  • Heath Taskis

    I’m very keen to use my normal app suite on the surface – chrome, dropbox, xamp, etc.
    I didn’t realise it was locked down when I got it for xmas, I was hugely disappointed.
    So limited with few decent apps available. No reason to use this above my ipad nor replace the laptop.

    • Emi Cyberschreiber

      so you know Microsoft-news.com and you dont know the SURFACE RT doesnt run desktop apps? oh yeah right. that sounds really believable mr. no life troll

  • surfacable

    I actually bought Surface knowing that there were down sides and up sides to windows RT and prefer it stay how it was intended. I am probably in the minority but I would actually like it to go the opposite way and slowly get away from the full windows 8 style and trim it down so that it runs even more efficiently!

    • Bugbog

      I agree. For a tablet of this size, the hullabaloo for ‘full-fat’ windows is just so much noise!

      If I wish to run legacy apps I’ll use my primary computer. I tried running some un-touch-adapted programs on my Acer W500 and they were almost literally “untouchable!”

      I’m all for the ‘locked down’ Surface, for what it wants to be; a full Windows 8 O.S. on ARM, but locked for limited functionality on the desktop.

  • phoenix0_4

    Why not implement this as somekind of poweruser-mode (instead of a “jailbreak”)? Perhaps as WinRT-Update to buy.

    Install non-metro-apps is allowed in Windows 8, so why not in WinRT? I can’t see the need to restrict it. Windows 8 is therefore less secure and less simple? Let the owner decide as always.

    I can imagine, that ARM-CPU will not handle well many programms for x86-CPUs, but that’s the same on old x86-hardware.

    • Will Tisdale

      ARM will not run any x86 software, period.

      • phoenix0_4

        Okay, I didn’t know that. Perhaps there will be a x86-emulator someday…

        Anyway, why not allow the homebrew-community develop “unsigned” apps?
        I could imagine a second marketplace-app like cydia on iOS, where people can install, what they want, but always on their own risk (like always on “normal” PCs).
        Every time, someone downloads and installs an app from within this store, there would be a warning that it is not certified by Microsoft. Can’t be so hard to implement…

      • phoenix0_4

        Okay, I didn’t know that. Perhaps there will be a x86-emulator someday…

        Anyway, why not allow the homebrew-community develop “unsigned” apps?
        I could imagine a second marketplace-app like cydia on iOS, where people can install, what they want, but always on their own risk (like always on “normal” PCs).
        Every time, someone downloads and installs an app from within this store, there would be a warning that it is not certified by Microsoft. Can’t be so hard to implement…

      • phoenix0_4

        Okay, I didn’t know that. Perhaps there will be a x86-emulator someday…

        Anyway, why not allow the homebrew-community develop “unsigned” apps?
        I could imagine a second marketplace-app like cydia on iOS, where people can install, what they want, but always on their own risk (like always on “normal” PCs).
        Every time, someone downloads and installs an app from within this store, there would be a warning that it is not certified by Microsoft. Can’t be so hard to implement…

        • http://twitter.com/SeanHsiLee Sean Lee

          You already can side load apps if you have a developer license. Which is currently free. The app just needs to be reinstalled every once in a while, but it’s possible already. Why is it so important to have unsigned apps? The app store exists to level the playing field for all app developers.

          • phoenix0_4

            For the normal user, it is not important. I’m one of these. I jailbreaked my iPod touch twice to see, what it could do for me. Except for some shortcuts, there was nothing, I miss. But if I would want to use some non-Apple-certified bluetooth devices (like bluetooth-gps-devices), it is the only way.

            So, why the unsigned apps? Because it is possible to use them and this feature should not be locked down by standard. Just let the person decide, who bought the device, and not only Microsoft.

  • jo

    Jo

  • ThatGuy

    Can somebody confirm that Skype Desktop that has just been ported is working?
    http://www.4shared.com/rar/TaHRtJl4/SkypeDesktop_For_ARM__Windows_.html