What’s happening (or not) at Replicant

Two months ago, I (Paul Kocialkowski) gave a talk about reached milestones and ongoing development on Replicant at FOSDEM, one of the biggest yearly European gatherings of free software developers. I was thrilled to meet people interested in Replicant there and pleased to chat with many other free software developers, working on various fields. As usual, talks were recorded and most of those recordings are now available on the FOSDEM website, with no exception for the embedded devroom, where I gave my talk and joined an embedded freedom roundtable with Carsten Munk from Jolla and the attendance. A WebM version of the talk is available on the Conferences page of the wiki.

Back from FOSDEM, most of my work was focused on U-Boot (the universal bootloader) for the LG Optimus Black and Sunxi (Allwinner) devices. Things are starting to look good on the LG Optimus Black, which now correctly boots Android without random run-time faults. As usual, things are moving very slowly due to the lack of time. The next step there will be to submit the first batch of LG Optimus Black support for inclusion in upstream U-Boot.

The Replicant code itself hasn’t changed much in the past months, since I am focusing on bootloaders development at this point. In addition, Gitorious is now closing down and while we have all the source code uploaded there backed up, we’re looking for an alternative solution that doesn’t compromise on the core values behind Replicant and offers significant guarantees. Because of this situation, nothing is to be committed to the repositories before they are moved to a new location, that we are yet to find.
However, some security updates were kindly submitted by the community and those will be reviewed and integrated as soon as everything is back up and running.

So hopefully, things will start moving faster in a bit!

Replicant at FOSDEM 2015

This year’s edition of FOSDEM, one of the major free software conferences in Europe, is just around the corner! Among the various talks that mention the state of free software on embedded devices, I (Paul Kocialkowski) will be presenting a talk entitled “Reached milestones and ongoing development on Replicant” on Sunday afternoon, that will first highlight the various achievements that were accomplished within the Replicant project to handle the numerous devices it supports today, only to explain how the majority of those devices are fatally flawed when it comes to freedom and privacy/security. Thus, the second part of the talk will put the emphasis on the new focus of the development effort, on devices that can take freedom to the next level. In particular, the current status of the Goldelico GTA04, LG Optimus Black (P970) and Allwinner (Sunxi) devices ports will be mentioned in detail, along with a description of the various plans for the work that is left to be done.

FOSDEM is also a great opportunity to meet members of the community, so do not hesitate to say hi if you bump into me in the embedded devroom or around the place! Remember that face-to-face meetings also allow for verifying the Replicant project’s release key‘s fingerprint and creating a chain of trust for verifying the software released by the Replicant project.

Replicant 4.2 0003 images release

It has been about 6 months since we last released a batch of images. A few things of interest were completed in the meantime, so we are rolling out new images today.

This release doesn’t bring support for any new device: instead, it mostly contains stability fixes for the devices we already support. The most considerable change in this release is the inclusion of the Samsung-RIL rewrite, that was developed this summer. Samsung-RIL is the component in charge of dealing with the modem, the hardware chip that communicates with the mobile telephony network. The code that was used since then didn’t have a good structure and didn’t meet the code quality standards required to call it stable or reliable. The rewrite should be more robust and fail-proof: it has been tested daily on a couple of devices for the past few months, with no major incident to report. The Samsung-RIL rewrite has about as many features supported as the previous version, with the exception of a few ones that were broken anyway (mainly, USSD and STK).
The new code establishes a sane basis for external contributions, so everyone is welcome to dig in and add support for what’s missing.

Another big achievement in that release is the inclusion of about a dozen security fixes, covering issues such as Shellshock, Master key, Fake ID and much more, thanks to reports by community members.

As usual, you can checkout the complete changelog, download the images from the ReplicantImages page and find installation instructions as well as build guides on the Replicant wiki.

Even though this release doesn’t introduce support for any new device, I have been at work regarding devices that make the best candidates for freedom and privacy/security. As mentioned in an earlier post, we are going to focus the development effort on a few devices that allow running free bootloaders and are either likely to have good modem isolation or don’t have a modem at all.

Recently, I have been working on adding Replicant support for Sunxi devices. There is a lot of work to do in that area and while nothing was released yet, it looks promising. I also spent a considerable amount of time working on the LG Optimus Black (P970)’s bootloader. I will be posting a series of articles about what an incredible journey it has been so far on my personal blog over the next few days. Eventually, the device will be properly documented in our wiki and as soon as U-Boot reaches feature completeness, it will be time to start porting Replicant to the device!

December 20th update: The full series of articles about freeing the LG Optimus Black (P970) is now available:

Replicant homepage and roadmap for the future

For a long time, the entry point for Replicant on the web was our blog, which holds status reports and news about the project. However, it did not fit well for providing easy access to relevant material about the project, nor did it give our (growing) community the attention it deserves. This is why we decided to launch a new homepage for the project, highlighting what really matters, in style.
We believe it is a good thing to have, in order to clearly spread the word about Replicant and ease the understanding of our message. The new homepage provides a clear explanation of what Replicant is about, provides answers to some common questions about the project and most importantly, holds a detailed overview of the core freedom and privacy/security issues that we face on mobile devices today, as well as recommendations regarding these topics.

Regarding progress in development, a few things happened recently and a lot more is on the way: time to take a step back, look at what’s in the works and what is next on our roadmap.
After attending RMLL/LSM in Montpellier, France, most of the development time was spent on completing a full rewrite of Samsung-RIL, the software in charge of the various aspects of telephony and mobile data on the Samsung devices we support. This rewrite brings many advantages in terms of stability, features support and also provides a sane and clear base to make external contributions easier. While this is an important contribution to achieve software freedom on mobile devices, these Samsung devices are severely flawed as they don’t allow running free bootloaders.

For some time already, we have decided to focus our development effort on better devices, that can run free bootloaders, in addition to a free system such as Replicant. First, we decided to bring Replicant 4.2 support to the Goldelico GTA04 and have already made good progress since the start. It is not currently usable as a daily phone, but we are confident about the future. The next step in the process is to work on supporting Allwinner devices, starting with cheap Chinese tablets. We are proud to be collaborating with the free software community built around the Allwinner Sunxi platforms: linux-sunxi. Our goal is to provide generic Replicant support for these platforms, so that as many devices as possible can be supported, with little effort required to support a new device. Thanks to the work of the linux-sunxi community, many of these devices can already run a free bootloader and have a community-maintained kernel available, providing a solid base for Replicant on Sunxi devices. In addition, we have spotted a few widely-spread devices that would also be good candidates for running a free bootloader and a free system: stay tuned as we will start documenting these devices soon!

In the meantime, we are more than ever willing to make Replicant as privacy/security-oriented as we can, especially by targeting devices that either don’t have a modem at all (Wi-Fi-only tablets, such as the many Sunxi ones) or are not proven to have bad modem isolation.

As of today, Replicant is still a one-man effort and while all these new directions are very exciting, it takes a lot of time to actually turn them into reality. Since we prefer to focus on these new directions, Replicant will stay based on version 4.2 of Android, even though newer versions are available upstream. Porting Replicant to a newer version requires a lot of effort and doesn’t bring any significant advantage when it comes to freedom.

Regarding the devices we already support that do not match the free bootloaders criteria, we are not going to drop development for them, but the majority of what was possible to achieve on them is already there and while we could keep adding support for more and more of these devices, we believe that development time is better spent on these new exciting directions!

Replicant 4.2 0002 images release

As we announced a few weeks ago, we’ve been working hard on Goldelico GTA04 support over the past months, so we thought it was time to make a new batch of images. Moreover, the time couldn’t be better as we are presenting Replicant at the LSM/RMLL, another reason to have something new to show!

Aside from GTA04 support, serious issues have been fixed regarding the Galaxy Nexus (I9250), that prevented entering suspend and the Galaxy S (I9100), where the RIL (telephony) was not reliable. In addition, more or less important fixes have also been introduced for other devices. Some more new features have been added as well, as we reduced out dependency toward Google in the Browser and the home screen. The Replicant logo also got a new typeface, that is now used on the boot screens and our websites.

Note that the SSL certificate for the Replicant websites was updated a few day ago, correcting an error about alternative valid names and using a new private key, the previous one having been subject to the Heartbleed vulnerability.

As usual, you can checkout the complete changelog, download the images from the ReplicantImages page and find installation instructions as well as build guides on the Replicant wiki.

Replicant 4.2 on the Goldelico GTA04

We started the work on the Goldelico GTA04 about 2 years ago, back in the Replicant 2.3 days. While we were able to release images at this point, they were far from being functional as key components were missing from the kernel, especially regarding power management. About 2 years later, the situation was finally unlocked thanks to the efforts of Golden Delicious and various members of the OpenPhoenux community, bringing GTA04 support to a newer kernel version that holds all the necessary pieces for proper Android support. More details on some technical aspects related to this are available at Paul Kocialkowski’s coding blog.

Work on the device resumed months ago and we’ve been working hard ever since to improve the status of the Replicant port. While it is not yet usable as a daily phone, we have reached numerous milestones over the past months and many key parts of the device are already handled correctly, already allowing many use cases, such as digital audio player or GPS navigation system. A dedicated wiki page holds the details of the Replicant status on GTA04.

As we’re very enthusiastic about the future, we’ve decided to shoot a video highlighting various aspects of Replicant on the GTA04! Installable images for the GTA04 will be released along with the next batch of Replicant 4.2 images, including all the features shown in the video:

The video is also available for download:

To this day, the GTA04 remains the best phone out there regarding software freedom: bootloaders are free software and Replicant will eventually be able to run with most of the device’s features supported, the only exceptions being graphics acceleration, hardware media encoding/decoding and Wi-Fi (due to a proprietary firmware). Regarding security and privacy, the Goldelico GTA04 is also very good as it can run without proprietary software, but also because its modem is clearly separated from the rest of the device.

You are very much encouraged to get your own device out of the next batch of GTA04 production by placing a preorder on the next revision! As it is often the case, devices that are particularly designed to be a good fit with free software don’t get much mainstream attention, which makes it especially hard for Golden Delicious to run production batches. Unlike in software development, having hardware produced costs a lot of money, especially in small batches. It is up to you to change that by showing your interest toward the Goldelico GTA04. Donations to Golden Delicious or Replicant are also welcome to help push the project forward!

Replicant at the 15th Libre Software Meeting in Montpellier, France this July

RMLL 2014

Replicant will take part in the 15th edition of the Libre Software Meeting (Rencontres Mondiales du Logiciel Libre — RMLL in French) that takes place from July 5th to 11th 2014 in Montpellier, France. We’ll be there during the week at the university to present Replicant through a few talks as well as a workshop, organized jointly with members of FSFE’s Free Your Android program and the F-Droid project. You’re welcome to come and say hi, ask for help about freeing your mobile device, see devices actually running with Replicant or just have a chat with us!

There will be two conferences about the Replicant project, both delivered in English: Replicant: software freedom on mobile devices and An overview of Replicant development. But there are plenty more talks dedicated to software freedom and Android: FSFE’s member Erik Albers will present a conference about Freedom on Android devices while F-Droid developer Daniel Martí will talk about Free Software on Android via F-Droid.
In addition, Replicant developer Paul Kocialkowski will present a conference about various freedom issues on ARM devices: ARM devices and your freedom.

Moreover, Richard M. Stallman, long time free software activist, founder of the GNU project and president of the Free Software Foundation will be attending the event and will deliver a speech about a Free digital society (in French).

We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

Unveiling the Samsung Galaxy back-door

Yesterday, we disclosed our findings about the Samsung Galaxy back-door, an anti-feature found in Samsung Galaxy devices that lets the modem access the files stored on the device. For a complete statement about the issue, you can refer to the article we published at the Free Software Foundation’s website. A technical description of the issue is available on a dedicated page of the Replicant wiki, along with more information regarding the back-door.

The information spread out very quickly and we’re glad the press is finding interest in such matters as privacy and unjust control over one’s computing. This demonstrates yet another time why free software is essential and how a single piece of proprietary software can compromise a whole device.

We have yet to hear from Samsung about this issue, as we are hoping that the reason for the presence of this back-door will be clarified. In that regard, we’d be very glad to work with Samsung in order to make things right, for instance through releasing free software or documentation that would make it easy for community Android versions to get rid of the incriminated blob.

Update: Several sources, including Samsung, claim this is a non-issue. A complementary statement to address these claims was issued at Paul Kocialkowski’s personal blog.

Replicant 4.2 kicks out!

We’ve been working very hard over the past few months to push Replicant to a newer Android version: the work started when CyanogenMod released version 10.1.3, based on the latest Android 4.2 code, back in September 2013. Bringing Replicant to a new Android version is a really big piece of work, especially given that the project only counts one active developer (however, we have hopes to see more people getting involved in the future)! The biggest motivation for the new version is to allow us to port Replicant to newer devices, that were not supported by Android 4.0, upon which Replicant 4.0 is based. Aside of that, Replicant 4.2 also brings the various improvements that come along with Android 4.2 and CyanogenMod 10.1.

All the devices that were supported by Replicant 4.0 were successfully ported to version 4.2, but some devices encounter serious slowness issues that are yet to be resolved. On the bright side of things, support for a new device was added, the Galaxy Note 2 N7100, which is mostly similar to the already supported Galaxy S 3. That was only made possible thanks to the generous donations that were made to the project, which enable us to buy devices for the current developer to work on. We are looking forward to adding support for even more devices in the future as well! Our wiki was updated to reflect the status of the supported devices as of the Replicant 4.2 release and features updated installation and usage guides. The Replicant SDK was also updated and is available for download.

The Replicant website and wiki were also cleaned up a bit during the preparation of this release. Our blog shall now only be used for posting updated on the project while our wiki holds the core informations about Replicant. As a reminder, please do not use the comment section of this blog to ask general-purpose questions, but use our forums or mailing-list instead!

This release also puts the emphasis on security: given the recent concerns that raised up concerning wide-scale surveillance from governments and certain companies, we though it would be good to make Replicant more bullet-proof. The Replicant 4.2 images for devices are now built in the userdebug fashion, which ensures a better level of security, the shipped system applications are signed with our own private keys, for which we provide the certificates and the releases are signed with our very own GPG release key. It is encouraged that you check the authenticity of the Replicant images or binaries before installing anything you downloaded!

As usual, you can checkout the complete changelog, download the images from the ReplicantImages page and find installation instructions as well as build guides on the Replicant wiki.

About the Fairphone

Over the past months, we have been asked a lot whether Replicant is going to be running on the Fairphone. The goal behind Fairphone, as its name suggests, is to build a phone that is “fair”. This covers a lot of different aspects that the Fairphone company took care of: such topics as using fair and conflict-free resources, ensuring that all workers along the supply chain get a fair wage, improving the handling of electronic waste, being transparent about the cost of each part of the device, its technical specifications and encouraging open and flexible designs.
We are really glad to see a company producing electronic devices taking care of such many important aspects as social conditions of workers, ecology and handling of e-waste as well as transparency and being “technically open”.

What we are especially interested in, at the Replicant project, is how good the device will be when it comes to software freedom. Hence, we have spent some time investigating the device, even though it is not out yet. Thanks to the cooperation of Fairphone, we were able to draw a quite complete picture of it.

The Fairphone will ship with a modified Android 4.2 version. An overlay interface was developed for the device and should be released as free software, but what we are really interested in is the parts that deal with the hardware. First, the Linux kernel source code for the device will be released (it is copyleft software so this is an obligation). It will also be possible to build the kernel from source and install it on the device without the need to sign the kernel with the manufacturer’s key. Actually, there should be no signature check on the Fairphone for the kernel or the bootloaders. Some of the bootloaders (maybe all of them; we cannot tell for sure at this point) are free software and it should be able to replace them with a free build. We are a bit worried that the tools to flash the Fairphone may be proprietary, but if the bootloaders are free and/or there is root access out of the box, there will be ways to work around this problem. On the system side, some of the libraries that deal with the hardware have been released as free software for devices that use the same platform (Mediatek 6589), so the basic required features such as audio will likely work. We are also confident we will be able to handle the modem with free software (that means telephony and such will work).
Fairphone is really trying hard to get Mediatek to release as many components as free software as possible, but they don’t have the source in their own hands and nor can they decide to make it free software themselves, so it may take some time to arrive or eventually not succeed.

However, things are not looking so good when it comes to evaluating the platform that was chosen for the Fairphone: the modem is embedded in the System on a Chip (SoC) which leads us to believe that it is poorly isolated from the rest of the platform and could access critical components such as storage, RAM, GPS and audio (microphone) of the device. If this was to be the case (we can only speculate about what the truth actually is), it would mean that the Fairphone is fatally flawed for security as it makes it possible for the phone to be converted to a remote spying device.

In conclusion, we think it will be possible to have Replicant working on the Fairphone and the bootloaders (that are not part of the operating system) may even be free software, but we believe it is seriously compromised security-wise because of the poor modem isolation.
However, Fairphone seems definitely interested in doing things right on the software freedom side and helping us get Replicant running on the device!