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AU Government To Build "Unhackable" Netbooks

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the smells-like-a-challenge dept.

Education 501

bennyboy64 writes "In what may be one of the largest roll-outs yet of Microsoft's new Windows 7 Operating System, Australia's Federal Government decided to give 240,000 Lenovo IdeaPad S10e netbooks to Year 9-12 students. Officials are calling them 'unhackable.' iTnews reports that the laptops come armed with an enterprise version of the Windows 7 OS, Microsoft Office, the Adobe CS4 creative suite, Apple iTunes, and content geared specifically to students. New South Wales Department of Education CIO Stephen Wilson said that schools were 'the most hostile environment you can roll computers into.' While the netbooks are loaded with many hundreds of dollars worth of software, 2GB of RAM, and a 6-hour battery, the cost to the NSW Department of Education is under $435 (US) a unit. Wilson praised Windows' new OS: 'There was no way we could do any of this on XP,' he said. 'Windows 7 nailed it for us.' At the physical layer, each netbook is password-protected and embedded with tracking software that is embedded at the BIOS level of the machine. If a netbook were to be stolen or sold, the Department of Education is able to remotely disable the device over the network. Each netbook is also fitted with a passive RFID chip which will enable the netbooks to be identified 'even if they were dropped in a bathtub.' The Department of Education also uses the AppLocker functionality within Windows 7 to dictate which applications can be installed."

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501 comments

Sure... (5, Insightful)

gregthebunny (1502041) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555075)

This needs a "goodluckwiththat" tag...

Re:Sure... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555337)

Second that

Re:Sure... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555473)

CS4 on a 1.6Ghz Atom.. good luck with that indeed. Never mind the rest of the "unhackable" stupidity.

Place your bets here (2)

iCantSpell (1162581) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555093)

100 worthless USD for cracking it open in less than 30 days

So stupid (5, Insightful)

GradiusCVK (1017360) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555201)

What is it with governments and hubris? If they had just shipped all these laptops without any mention of "unhackableness", you know what would have happened?
1: 240,000 kids would have gotten reasonably secure systems with useful software on them
2: People would have noticed how secure and safe the systems were, and appreciated the low rate of problems they experienced
3: Eventually, some smart students would have figured out how to bypass all the security so they can play world of warcraft or something, but nobody would have cared and it wouldn't have gotten any press

Instead, some asshat announces to the world "Bow to our unhackable laptops! We are awesome! HAHAHA!", and now thousands of hackers and security researchers out there have made it their personal crusade to find a way to totally decimate all the security on the box. You're right... It's gonna take about 1 month for an exploit for these things to make it to the front page on slashdot. Fucking idiots.

Footnote:
Yes, I'm aware that security through obscurity is no security at all, but that's not the issue here. The issue is that instead of nobody caring or trying to break the reasonable security they've implemented, now they've got thousands of people working on it. THAT does matter.

Re:So stupid (5, Funny)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555287)

Footnote: Yes, I'm aware that security through obscurity is no security at all, but that's not the issue here. The issue is that instead of nobody caring or trying to break the reasonable security they've implemented, now they've got thousands of people working on it. THAT does matter.

Security through obscurity's little brother? Security through "meh"?

Absolutely (5, Insightful)

GradiusCVK (1017360) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555379)

And don't discount the importance of it, either. All security, no matter what type it is or how it is implemented, is basically designed to slow down anybody who might try to break it. Indeed, security through obscurity itself does this, but the actual slowdown it provides is minimal, and it adds an extra cost: it is difficult to tell when somebody out there has successfully broken your security. By opening up, you can get a bunch of people working on your security to strengthen it, to help offset the few people who might be interested in breaking it.

Anyway, why would you go to such great lengths to slow down any individuals who might see a profit in cracking your systems, then go and piss off a bunch of 1337 haxxorz all over the world and get thousands of them working on the problem in parallel? Kinda defeats the purpose of using strong security in the first place, doesn't it?

Re:So stupid (1)

lorenlal (164133) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555511)

Security through "meh" vs. Security through "I am INVINCIBLE" provides quite a difference in response. As summary/article/etc points out though, when you tell someone they can't do something, the first thing they want to do is... find a way to do it.

I suggest they send out flares and try to get others to make the same claim on bigger projects to divert the attention.

Re:So stupid (3, Insightful)

hot soldering iron (800102) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555571)

Exactly. The purpose of any lock is to provide a speed bump. Hopefully a big enough bump that you'll decide the effort isn't worth the payoff. This asshat increased the payoff 1000 fold in notoriety, and social recognition.

Re:So stupid (1)

GNious (953874) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555331)

So, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that these aussies are asshats for challenging the world + dog to find all imaginable security holes in Windows 7? hmm, not sure, since they just recruited a lot of "free" (cost-diverted) man-power.

Re:So stupid (2, Insightful)

GradiusCVK (1017360) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555415)

You do not understand me correctly.

find all imaginable security holes in Windows 7

No, they have challenged people all over the world to find all imaginable security holes in THESE LAPTOPS. Nobody cares about Windows 7, everyone knows that there will be hacks galore available for the next few years (though maybe fewer than XP?). The point is that they've said "Hey, anybody want to prove you're the world's greatest hacker? Pwn our boxen!". Guess what? Somebody will... and it's going to be big news, and the Aussies have set themselves up to look really stupid when somebody asks "So I thought these were supposed to be unhackable... how badly do you fail at life?".

not sure, since they just recruited a lot of "free" (cost-diverted) man-power

Hmmm? By your logic, next time I install a good home security system, I should go to the nearest federal prison and challenge anybody to break in when they get out? I guess that'd be free but.... I guess I still don't see the point of it.

Titanic Syndrome (4, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555471)

It's analogous to the Streisand Effect. And when the machines get hacked, the id10t who declared them "unsinkable" will experience Titanic Syndrome.

Re:So stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555557)

My understanding is that it was hacked basically on the first day kids got these things.

Really it had no real security features. Just some BIOS crap that can be wiped out with a firmware upgrade. After that you're free to install whatever you want on the machine.

Same goes for the RFID, the chip can simply be physically disabled.

Someone is gonna open it. (2, Informative)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555107)

It runs Windows.

Your setup is flawed from the start.

Re:Someone is gonna open it. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555139)

It runs Windows.

Your setup is flawed from the start.

Linux and Windows are just as hackable as each other if the people hacking know what there doing, so I'm not sure what you're implying there.

Re:Someone is gonna open it. (2, Insightful)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555183)

Your odds of getting broke by a simple script kiddie are much higher on windows, if an experienced black hat is trying to hack it all bets are off.

Re:Someone is gonna open it. (2, Informative)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555251)

Here though they have physical access to the device. You don't need to be an experienced black hat to take a hard drive, mount it in another machine, and modify /etc/shadow. Or possibly simply boot from a USB drive to do the same, in which case it really is script kiddie territory.

usb boot? (1)

reiisi (1211052) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555283)

I wonder if the BIOS will allow disabling USB boot. Or if the admins who sold the AU government the bill of goods will think to disable it.

Re:Someone is gonna open it. (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555507)

Not to mention it has made those laptops a hell of a lot bigger target, because all those malware writers are already working on Win7 because they know tons of clueless users are gonna be getting Win7 from Dell this Xmas. Compared to even the most popular Linux or BSD distro the amount of hackers that will be trying to exploit Win7 will just be unreal. Finally add to that we are talking grades 9-12, which equals porn surfing hormone bombs, and it sounds like a recipe for pwnage to me. This "unhackable" remark was just the stupid frosting on a seriously stupid cake.

Re:Someone is gonna open it. (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555365)

True the OS will be at risk ( regardless of the OS ), but getting into the firmware ( TPM/DRM/Call for help ) will be much harder. Not impossible of course, but the people that can do that wont be stealing 400 dollar school laptops.

I long for the day... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555121)

...when Slashdot news beginning with "Australian Government" won't necessarily end with a rephrasing of "shows off its technological naivety".

Re:I long for the day... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555181)

I don't. A government with tech experience is not a nice thing.

Re:I long for the day... (1)

the_womble (580291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555351)

...when Slashdot news beginning with "Australian Government" won't necessarily end with a rephrasing of "shows off its technological naivety".

....when Slashdot news about any government won't necessarily end with a rephrasing of "shows off its technological naivety".

It's just journalism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555463)

You know how tabloids have big headlines about murders, etc. though there are thousands of families who have had just an ordinary day? Nobody cares about the family who just had an ordinary day. It's the same with government.

Each day tens of thousands of officials are working in nearly every country (most countries are large enough for that). And despite the right wing propaganda that all people who work for the government are lazy and just slacking off... Millions of officials all around the world are working hard and doing pretty good job. That includes officials who work with technology. But why would there be news about that?

"IT department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden implemented pretty decent policy about using work laptops at home"?

"Ministry of Agriculture of Estonia has had no major information leaks ever!"?

"The IT system that manages payrolls of people working for the sewer department of New York has not had a single spectacular failure!"?

Same Govt. (5, Informative)

retech (1228598) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555125)

This is the same govt. that put a guy in jail on child pornography charges for having a Simpson's parody porno on his computer.

Ignorance and arrogance seem to always walk hand in hand.

Re:Same Govt. (1)

afaik_ianal (918433) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555409)

No, it's not actually. This is the New South Wales government, whereas the "child abuse" case (I don't believe he was actually accused of distributing child porn) was the Queensland government.

Australian government is much like US government in that we have separate state governments plus a federal government. The states are technically sovereign over the federation, but like the US, there's constant to-ing and fro-ing about how much power they've chosen to hand over to the federal government.

We in NSW have enough problems with our government without it being tarred with every other state government's brush.

MS must have given a great (4, Insightful)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555127)

Lunch or deal. Some state politician and/or bureaucrat must be getting a nice thanks later in life.
The PR reads like pure MS marketing slop with a cute upgrade hint.

Re:MS must have given a great (2, Informative)

kayoshiii (1099149) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555407)

MS currently has the NSW school system eating out of its hands I remember talking to a highschool teacher a few years back who was sharing his concerns that MS had basically brokered a deal with them where they could not teach competing products. I have not seen the actual agreement so I don't have anything solid to back it up with.

Reading between the lines when talking with the IT head of TAFE in my region of NSW basically told the same story. (We were trying to reach an arangement for Tafe to use some facilities we had for outreach courses).

windows "installs" applications (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555131)

And thus, the FAIL. How does this prevent anyone from RUNNING other applications, i.e. via the classic "download the exe with IE but tell it to run instead of save" trick, or from a non "installed" Firefox, etc from a USB drive?

Re:windows "installs" applications (2, Informative)

MikaelC (584630) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555453)

AppLocker restricts which applications are allowed to run, not which are allowed to be installed. See e.g. this review [4sysops.com] .

Too late (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555135)

I just spoke to a friend in Australia.. its been pwned already using the nuke the bios and boot from a livecd method.

They even disabled the RFID.

Re:Too late (5, Informative)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555161)

yeah, nuking the bios from a cd is ridiculously easy. It's actually a feature that people can do so. Hirens boot CD [hiren.info] comes with very simple methods for that.

I bet someone will just make an app that unlocks the laptop and wipes the firmware for them so that the laptops can have actual use.

Re:Too late (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555373)

That is if you can boot from a cd. If they let you, then their admins are a waste.

Re:Too late (4, Funny)

wes33 (698200) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555457)

hey - some guy on slashdot said he talked to some other guy
who Australia who heard from somewhere that these computers
could be hacked

It *must* be true!

Re:Too late (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555531)

Depends if it's BIOS or EFI. The tools to nuke EFI really aren't there yet (although they'll likely appear in the next few months).

Of course with EFI if you can break into the shell you've got command line access the machine is basically hosed.

Re:Too late (4, Funny)

Proudrooster (580120) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555259)

There were these guys that made this ship that was "unsinkable" which on its maiden voyage ran into an iceberg and sank. Compromising the BIOS in this case is analogous to the iceberg. "Unsinkable, Unhackable, Waterproof." BTW, isn't the Thinkpad supposed to work underwater?

Re:Too late (0, Redundant)

Turzyx (1462339) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555517)

The Titanic was owned by and built in the United Kingdom. Australia isn't even in the same hemisphere.

I dont understand ... (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555137)

I dont understand why this would be considered unhackable. Exploits have already been released for windowed 7.

Re:I dont understand ... (5, Insightful)

Alain Williams (2972) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555223)

I dont understand why this would be considered unhackable. Exploits have already been released for windowed 7.

It is quite simple: Microsoft said that it was unhackable, so as far as the idiot politicians were concerned it must be true.

What grates with me is that the Australian Federal Government is spending money training kids to use MS s/ware - something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. The MS marketing department must be overjoyed.

What education should be about is understanding, if you just train someone in one version of s/ware many just adopt a point and click approach with little understanding of what they are doing. You need different sorts of s/ware to make them think. Schools should use a mixture of: MS, Mac & Linux PCs.

mix of OSses? (0, Troll)

reiisi (1211052) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555309)

Shoot, throw in some Amiga, Be, FORTH, and other interesting OSses, too. And some prototyping hardware with nothing but monitor ROMs on it.

Re:I dont understand ... (5, Insightful)

drsmithy (35869) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555323)

What education should be about is understanding, if you just train someone in one version of s/ware many just adopt a point and click approach with little understanding of what they are doing. You need different sorts of s/ware to make them think. Schools should use a mixture of: MS, Mac & Linux PCs.

You seem to have severely misunderstood the purpose of these machines.

Re:I dont understand ... (2, Insightful)

plsuh (129598) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555469)

What education should be about is understanding, if you just train someone in one version of s/ware many just adopt a point and click approach with little understanding of what they are doing. You need different sorts of s/ware to make them think. Schools should use a mixture of: MS, Mac & Linux PCs.

I think it's a little more subtle than that. 90% of the kids using these things will go on to be standard users in life, treating computers as one tool among many. Have you seen how regular users treat computers? Most of them are uncomfortable using a new app without formal training -- even today's twentysomethings. Even on a Mac (yes, I'm a Mac guy).

What concerns me more are the other 10%, who will become power users, sysadmins, and developers. If all they know is MS and their pitifully low standards for stability, security, and usability, I am scared of the outcome for the next generation of software; not for the 0.1% of brilliant developers whom you can't keep down, but for the rest who grind out code in obscurity producing internal-use-only enterprise apps and vertical markets apps.

I think of a kid in my son's Boy Scout troop who had no idea that "SQL" had a broader meaning than a Microsoft product named "SQL Server". He's a brilliant kid and will go far, but he needed to have his horizons broadened quite a bit. I don't fault him -- rather, I fault those who mentored him and didn't show him the alternatives.

--Paul

Re:I dont understand ... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555425)

AppLocker is what makes it unhackable.. Only scripts, batch files, executables, processes, services, device drivers, that are WHITE LISTED to run CAN RUN. That includes, excluding part of the OS that can run if desired. That means, if you plug a USB with an auto run in, it WONT auto run. That means if you click try to run a 'portable' non-allowed app, it wont run. Combined with the No execute data flag, it also means that executables cant leak out of a process and run. In addition, if they would of left Steady State/ Pc Safeguard / Guest Mode in the OS, then you wouldnt be able to write anywhere outside of your profile if so desired by the admin, and *ALL* changes to everything, OS, user files, directory structure, profiles, boot options, partition tables etc will be discarded on reboot, even administrators changes, unless the admin told the OS to persist their changes.

Renaming executables doesnt work either, AppLocker blocks executables by Certificate, executable hashes, publisher, path, or name.

This looks pretty solid (1)

davide marney (231845) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555143)

This looks like a pretty well thought out plan. The fact that the entire application suite will be getting automatic upgrades is great; this is something that Linux users have enjoyed for many years. The "unhackable" claim is PR fluf, sure, but making such a claim should inspire their budding engineers to explore the edges of their new boxes. Since the boxes are tagged with RFID, I certainly hope no student keeps them after graduation (not that they're likely to -- 4 years is a long time to keep a netbook.)

Bathtub & RFID (1)

Lord Satri (609291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555145)

From the summary:

Each netbook is also fitted with a passive RFID chip which will enable the netbooks to be identified 'even if they were dropped in a bathtub.'

What's the relation between RFID [wikipedia.org] and water immersion? RFID will allow knowing where the netbook is and can pass along some information, but it is not by itself the RFID chip that will tell you you took swim with your netbook! No?

Re:Bathtub & RFID (1)

Orionn2000au (1491623) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555197)

The point is that it's passive. If you drop an active circuit in a bathtub, it'll probably fry all the circuitry. A passive circuit is less likely to be damaged, so it would still work next time you ran it past an RFID reader. ie. they're saying the RFID chip will be hard(er?) to disable and therefore for a thief to disguise his stolen netbook.

Re:Bathtub & RFID (1)

Oblong_Cheese (1002842) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555199)

I believe the quote is in reference to protecting against physical damage of the unit. Even if it is submersed and all the components are fried, the passive RFID chip will still respond to a scanner.

Re:Bathtub & RFID (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555345)

RFID's are made watertight by putting them in a sealed thin glass tube. I guess it would be easy to spot when you open the laptop, and it won't survive the typical blunt object.
The only defense is that laptops generally don't have an RFID tag, so no one bothers to look for it. Putting this fact in a press release that ends op on-line is a very effective way of making sure the tag will be found :-)

Re:Bathtub & RFID (1)

pelrun (25021) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555431)

Sure, for subcutaneous use, but there's nothing stopping one being put in a ceramic package and placed on the motherboard looking like just another IC.

Will they ever learn? (1)

Capsy (1644737) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555147)

Whenever you tell the internet communities of the world that something is "unhackable", you're basically saying go ahead and prove us wrong. When the communities say I told you so, I wanna see Bill Gates cry.

Re:Will they ever learn? (1)

Rhoon (785258) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555291)

When the communities say I told you so, I wanna see Bill Gates cry.

You won't, but I do recommend looking out for flying chairs.

Atom + Win7 = ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555149)

S10 uses the Atom CPU. Wouldn't it be slow as shit to run Windows 7 on that?

Re:Atom + Win7 = ? (1)

Rhoon (785258) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555269)

I have the Dell Inspiron mini 10v and it loads Win 7 like a charm. It's extremely fast coming out of sleep mode and is doing great as a development environment (Visual Studio for C# and XNA and Eclipse for Java). The only pain in the butt part of it was upgrading the RAM to 2GB (you essentially have to take almost every screw out of the thing to get access to the bottom of the M.B. where the RAM Chip lives -- definitely not easy access).

Get me one of these and find out how long it lasts (5, Insightful)

marcansoft (727665) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555157)

"Tracking software embedded at the BIOS level"? Last I checked, those "tracking schemes" just force-fed Windows some driver/app at the BIOS level. Install any other OS and it becomes useless (not to mention that BIOSes these days aren't even hard to hack). As for the RFID, I don't see how disassembling it and taking it out is rocket science. Nevermind that the students themselves are going to be owning any kind of app installation protection in the blink of an eye.

Sorry, using software to secure a platform against its physical holder has never worked for long, but even just trying to do it on an insecure platform like an x86 PC is beyond useless. None of this is has even a remote chance of working without the heaviest-handed TPM-on-CPU-die functionality and signing of each and every piece of software, but that has no chance of working because no one would want such a platform, it would be painful and expensive to develop, and it could never exist given the buggy and insecure nature of PC software in general.

Video game consoles with strong hardware security and tightly controlled software environments with little interoperability requirements get cracked all the time to run homebrew and/or pirate games, what makes these people think their little netbook won't be?

For what it's worth, Linux vs. Windows here makes little difference. The entire scheme is doomed to fail from the start due to the nature of a PC solution like this. Sounds like Microsoft just sold these guys a bunch of nonexistent security.

Re:Get me one of these and find out how long it la (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555389)

"Tracking software embedded at the BIOS level"? Last I checked, those "tracking schemes" just force-fed Windows some driver/app at the BIOS level.

That is the 'consumer level' sort of protection. There is another level that is available to 'special customers', but i do agree that you wont see it on some cheapo school laptop.

What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555159)

Adobe CS4 on netbooks with 2GB RAM?

goodluckwiththat :/

Unhackable like the Australian Porn Filter? (4, Insightful)

dncsky1530 (711564) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555173)

Setting aside the fact that I don't think giving students laptops is the most efficient use of resources (smaller class sizes, more funding for teachers, arts and science programs etc would be better)... I can't help but wonder if this will be as unhackable as $84 million porn filter [slashdot.org] released a couple years ago.

Unhackable Windows (1)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555185)

Can't be done, there is no way to have a Windows install that is less then 90% bugs patched with 10 bull shit. The features this is taking about like BIOS level tracking and RFID have nothing to do with Windows and let alone the fact that all you need to do is run a live cd of Linux and hack the file system. It was a good idea, I guess, I guess if you don't think about it and just put this together really fast.

Re:Unhackable Windows (1)

Arimus (198136) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555333)

Running a live cd assumes that the BIOS boot options aren't locked down [and that it doesn't use a strong password and can't easily be circumvented just by shorting out the CMOS battery]

Re:Unhackable Windows (2, Insightful)

Baron_Yam (643147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555367)

To run a live CD of Linux... wouldn't the BIOS have to be set to boot from CD-ROM? The locked BIOS?

So, now you're cracking the case open, and disconnecting the (possibly soldered) battery and hoping the BIOS resets to factory defaults that haven't been set to include the lockouts.

Or, pull out the hard drive, plug it into another machine and do what you will - which might not do a lot of good if they've got the processor set to run signed code only.

I'd try pulling the hard drive and cloning it then playing with the copy until I found out the limits of what I could do.

Sure, some will be hacked, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555189)

lost, stolen or sold. There is always collateral damage in this type of program.

What is important is will the remaining be a worthwhile educational investment?

Re:Sure, some will be hacked, (2, Insightful)

badfish99 (826052) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555295)

If they're so locked down that the students can't do what they want with them, then no, they won't. They will just teach the students to accept spoon-fed information and not to try to investigate anything for themselves.

Re:Sure, some will be hacked, (1)

PiSkyHi (1049584) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555417)

Yeah, I was concerned about this briefly, but then I realised it takes one kid to hack it and do something with it they are all dying to do probably something like instant switch virtual secure social networking or such and bang - they all want it fixed that way.

One kid, or even one kid's parent.

They already failed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555193)

These days nothing is unhackable in the world of computers. Anything can be done eventually.

You just CAN'T hack it! (1)

EugeneProctor (1643653) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555195)

The best way to get a high-school student to do something is to tell them they CAN'T. "You can't hack this machine!" It's like telling them that the car to which you just gave them keys is "uncrashable." Give 'em five seconds!

little brother (0)

pinkishpunk (1461107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555213)

anyone that have been reading Cory Doctorow`s little brother, will see strong parallels to the school computers handed out to the students and how they manged to get around the spyware in them. Wonder what other bright ideers from that book they are going to implementate.

Re:little brother (0)

MattBD (1157291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555315)

anyone that have been reading Cory Doctorow`s little brother, will see strong parallels to the school computers handed out to the students and how they manged to get around the spyware in them. Wonder what other bright ideers from that book they are going to implementate.

Pretty much what I was thinking - and I imagine they're likely to fall just as quickly as the SchoolBooks in that. I'm pretty sure hackers everywhere will see that as a challenge. I give it a month or two once they're available. I really hope they don't implement the constant stream of advertising as well.

AppLocker (1)

GF678 (1453005) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555227)

AppLocker WILL make it more difficult to run unauthorised apps, even if they're distributed/run via USB. It won't block things entirely but just like every security measure, it will make things more difficult, and that's all you should be able to expect. Give Microsoft some credit - I'd love to get a hold of one of these netbooks.

so let me get this straight (5, Insightful)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555245)

While the netbooks are loaded with many hundreds of dollars worth of software, 2GB of RAM, and a 6-hour battery, the cost to the NSW Department of Education is under $435 (US) a unit.

The netbooks have hundreds of dollars of software loaded and still only cost $435 a unit. So the cost of the unit is being subsidized and the department is hailing this as some big leap forward in cost of ownership? And some of the big changes are related to the BIOS.

Already, the department has noted the loss or damage of just six netbooks out of the 20,000 rolled out since August - and have tracked one teacher using their device on a field trip in New Zealand.

Yeah, really cool that the school can track and potentially monitor everyone using one of these devices, even if the machine is not physically turned on via the RFID tags. Now there's a big win.

DET also uses the AppLocker functionality within Windows 7 to dictate which applications can be installed on the device.

Even better. Add McAfee filtering to control content and MSFT's own antivirus technology...add up what all that would cost in a real world enterprise. Just the software costs alone would dwarf the cost of the device.

I look at the cost of the device, the software and all the centralized control and think, "Or just install Linux and get 95% of that functionality right out of gate." And the 5% you don't get is the spying and monitoring part. What lesson is the school teaching here?

This is certainly a win for someone, but I'm not sure it's the students and teachers.

Why? (5, Insightful)

whisper_jeff (680366) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555249)

Why would anyone issue a challenge like that over netbooks for students? Unhackable? Bullshit! Some hacker out there is going to take that as a challenge and hack into the thing in, I'm guessing, less than a week. And some poor student is going to have his netbook hacked because some nimrod decided to talk smack about how awesome-sauce these netbooks are and described it a "unhackable." Unreal...

Re:Why? (4, Insightful)

MattBD (1157291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555329)

I don't think too many kids will have their netbooks broken into by hackers - most school-age kids don't have credit cards. More likely someone will find a crack and release it to the world for the kids to use.

Not too bad. (1)

pinchies (1275404) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555257)

Personally, I look at this as pretty brave, but the measures in place will likely deter the average student from mucking around with them, and those who have the skills to circumvent them easily are probably less likely to mess them up anyway. Lenovo has a good rep for a solid build quality too -- a much better choice for year 9 - 12 than some "rugged" but stripped down kids toy. Probably the most bold thing here is CS4 on a atom with 2GB ram.

Someone has to be the idiot at the party. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555273)

Even in the community of nations, someone has to have the least competent government on earth.

Unhackable what??? (1)

chelroms (1642993) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555275)

their is no way it cant be hack.... there are many bright brains in the world and they cant read them all.... their is one joke i knew hack the automated Poll machine in the Philippines and Sen. Cayetano will give you 100million pesos philippine money... she had big trust on the machine she didn't even know hackers are analyzing it now... http://www.techandgizmo.com/ [techandgizmo.com]

Haha.. no (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555299)

I work for one of the departments involved, hence the anonymous post.

This is typical government posturing, and has nothing little to do with the what's actually going on.

From what I've seen, the RFID chips are redundant, they're using the machine's BIOS UUID to track machines through software, I don't think they even record the embedded RFID codes at all, as that requires a physical reader device, and they're not handing them out to schools. Normally, RFID tags aren't used for anti-theft, but for inventory tracking.

The BIOS tracking is pretty standard and off-the-shelf, it's not designed to stop professionals, but it will catch stupid thieves. Software protection is not huge, but most 'problems' will be met with an F12 network boot and a fresh system image, so the harm students can do will be limited and easily reversible. Students get limited space to save their work, and that is backed up centrally, so they shouldn't lose any data. On top of that, most questionable sites are blocked by the internet proxies, so that cuts out lots of potential sources of harmful stuff.

Really, the true protection the laptop gets is that every student receives one for free, but a replacement laptop has to be paid for out of their parent's pockets. Students will learn to be careful with them or face punishment from their parents.

There's lots of other silliness going on though, especially as it's my tax dollars going to waste.

For example, the enterprise agreement for the Adobe CS4 suite was a big deal. They spent millions purchasing the software before anyone had actually tried running any of it on an actual laptop. Only after the government had signed the contracts did they bother, only to find out that the screens were too small. All of the Adobe dialog boxes were designed for a vertical height larger than the physical screen resolution, so the OK/Cancel buttons are cut off. The workaround was to install a driver that supports a larger virtual desktop and pans the screen around. It's hideous. This is what happens when you let politicians make technical purchasing decisions.

Similarly, the laptops are rather anemic, which is expected for a netbook, but a lot of the software and content they want to publish is very video-centric. Apparently some types of video, like Flash content and h264, don't always play well, and high-res content is a slide show.

Re:Haha.. no (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555387)

Sounds like a government bid to me.

In all honesty, those netbook screens are tiny. GNOME preference windows on Ubuntu suffer from the same problems you describe in Adobe. Having spent that much money, I wonder if it was too difficult to ask Adobe for a patch.

Note: Ubuntu 9.10 features preference windows that fit your screen. 9.04 involves tabbing and hoping for the best.

From Lenovo? (5, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555311)

If I recall, China's People's Liberation Army is part-owner of Lenovo.

Exactly why do the Aussies thing there won't be back doors built into the hardware or BIOS?

240000 * $435 a unit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555319)

Is something under $105 million! Imagine what they could have done with $105 million applied to other aspects of education. Then there is the maintenance and support costs.

I sure hope this is worth it. It's a rather expensive experiment with an OS that isn't even released yet and they are deploying them into what they acknowledge as one of the most hostile environments imaginable. Bold. Very bold. Furthermore, is it actually good for education for each student to have access to a computer at all times? I've always thought the results were mixed, and my experience with computers in the classroom is that they are helpful half the time, and a horrible distraction the rest.

And unhackable? Tee hee. I'm sure no one will figure out how to boot an entirely different OS and run whatever they like. (Haw!)

Privacy? (1)

MattBD (1157291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555381)

Stuff like that makes me wonder about what they haven't said. For instance, if it's that locked down it wouldn't surprise me if it incorporates a keylogger of some kind, and other ways of monitoring usage. While I can see how they might choose to justify something like that (such as to make sure kids aren't doing something they shouldn't during lessons), it's a monstrous breach of privacy.

Testbed for Chinese Government tracking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555423)

Since these are Lenovos, and the Chinese government has a record of spying via technology, internally and externally, could this be a testbed for embedding the tracking/monitoring technology, hence subsidized to get such a large-scale real-world "beta" up and running?

I wonder if the "call-home" monitoring includes the IP addresses of those computers that were relaying the snooping of the Dalai Lama's organizationl PC's.

Paranoid? Me? You bet! Oh, wait, it is not paranoia when they really are out to get you ...

Unhackable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555451)

This is so cool. An unhackable netbook sounds awesome. Just like how we had an unsinkable ship, the Titanic.

There sure are a lot of stories on /. that... (5, Interesting)

Informative (1347701) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555487)

... give the impression that Austalia's governors are stupid fucks.

Aussies are stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555489)

Film at 11...

Kinda makes me feel all warm and cozy inside watching Micro$oft exploit those cave men.

unhackable Windows 7 ? (1)

viralMeme (1461143) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555497)

"Stephen Wilson said that schools were 'the most hostile environment you can roll computers into.' While the netbooks are loaded with many hundreds of dollars worth of software, 2GB of RAM, and a 6-hour battery, the cost to the NSW Department of Education is under $435 (US) a unit. Wilson praised Windows' new OS: 'There was no way we could do any of this on XP,' he said. 'Windows 7 nailed it for us.' At the physical layer, each netbook is password-protected and embedded with tracking software that is embedded at the BIOS level of the machine"

As usual with these 'the first ever whatever on Windows' type stories they fail to mention that such functionality has been around previously on other systems. Does anyone really believe that Windows is unhackable. All such features do is hinder the usability of the units. And such 'security' doesn't belong in the OS but embedded into the underlying hardware. Or else on a PCMCIA Card.

Can't RTFA (1)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 4 years ago | (#29555499)

All I get is an "interstitial ad" that counts down from 40, then starts over again. And again.

WTF?

NSW site with more details (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555533)

Oh, cool -- I found the official NSW laptop program website [nsw.edu.au] . Among other things, the specs are a 1.6GHz Atom and a 10.2 inch 1024x576 display with Intel GMA 950. One thing is for sure -- they're going to be playing flash games on this one, not 3D :-)

Adobe CS4 on a netbook? Wow. That must be amusing. Windows 7 must be a magical OS to turn a mere netbook into a decent machine for that, especially with all the background monitoring software on the go. I picture these machines running like molasses, and I bet the "6 hours battery life" is off the spec sheet and nothing near the real world performance.

They've apparently deployed 20000 of these units already. There must be someone with first-hand experience out there. Do these machines live up to the hype, both in terms of security, performance, and educational value?

Unhackable means unnetworkable and untouchable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29555559)

If you want a system to have any hope of being "Unhackable", that means it won't be connected to a network and physical access will not be allowed.

Basically, you have a system with a remote monitor, keyboard and mouse via serial/ps2 ports. The computer itself is in a different location, locked.

As soon as physical security is breached, you no longer have an "unhackable" system.

Ignorance is too much not to share with the world, huh?

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