Hacker finds way to run desktop applications on Windows RT

The method exploits a kernel vulnerability to bypass the restriction Microsoft built into Windows RT, the hacker said

By Lucian Constantin, IDG News Service |  Security, Windows RT

"The reason I tried to disable Code Integrity has nothing to do with Win32 or WinRT," he said in a discussion thread on Reddit. "It has to do with choice. Microsoft wants devs to go through the [Windows] Store and it is understandable from a money standpoint. But allowing Win32 apps could have helped the chicken-and-egg problem the Surface is going to die from."

Clrokr doesn't agree with the argument that traditional desktop applications require more resources and consume more battery power than Metro-style apps, which might have led to Microsoft's decision to ban them in Windows RT.

"This is not quite true," he said. "It all really depends on the quality of the programs. Win32 and WinRT apps are not as different as you might think. You can easily build a crappy, slow, unresponsive WinRT app. And there is no reason to believe that Win32 apps have higher requirements when it comes to processing power and memory."

Microsoft is aware of the disclosed exploit and is looking into the matter. "We are actively investigating this report and will take appropriate action to help protect customers," the company said Monday via email.

The hack does have some limitations. For one, the signing-level byte cannot be permanently changed because of the Secure Boot feature that checks the integrity of the OS after every reboot and reverts unauthorized changes.

This means that the bypass procedure must be performed after every reboot. Tablet devices are not rebooted that often, so this is not necessarily a huge inconvenience, but it does mean that the use of the hack is, at least for now, restricted to more technical users.

Another limitation is that x86 desktop programs can't simply be installed on Windows RT; they need to be recompiled for the ARM architecture. For open-source programs this might prove easier to do, but for closed-source ones the only way to do it is to convince the original developers to create versions for ARM.

In a discussion thread on the XDA-Developers forums, a user claims to have already compiled PuTTY -- an open-source SSH, Telnet and rlogin client application -- for ARM and successfully installed it on a Surface Tablet using clrokr's hack.

In the same thread someone suggested the idea of porting Chromium, the open-source browser that serves as the basis for Google Chrome, to ARM and installing it on Microsoft Surface. Clokr also said on Reddit that he has seen 7-Zip running on Windows RT.

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