Amazon Fire TV Update Bricks Hacked Devices

The Amazon Fire TV is Amazon’s answer to all of the other streaming media devices on the market today. Amazon is reportedly selling these devices at cost, making very little off of the hardware sales. Instead, they are relying on the fact that most users will rent or purchase digital content on these boxes, and they can make more money in the long run this way. In fact, the device does not allow users to download content directly from the Google Play store, or even play media via USB disk. This makes it more likely that you will purchase content though Amazon’s own channels.

We’re hackers. We like to make things do what they were never intended to do. We like to add functionality. We want to customize, upgrade, and break our devices. It’s fun for us. It’s no surprise that hackers have been jail breaking these devices to see what else they are capable of. A side effect of these hacks is that content can be downloaded directly from Google Play. USB playback can also be enabled. This makes the device more useful to the consumer, but obviously is not in line with Amazon’s business strategy.

Amazon’s response to these hacks was to release a firmware update that will brick the device if it discovers that it has been rooted. It also will not allow a hacker to downgrade the firmware to an older version, since this would of course remove the root detection features.

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of us. We’ve seen this type of thing for years with mobile phones. The iPhone has been locked to the Apple Store since the first generation, but the first iPhone was jailbroken just days after its initial release. Then there was the PlayStation 3 “downgrade” fiasco that resulted in hacks to restore the functionality. It seems that hackers and corporations are forever destined to disagree on who actually owns the hardware and what ownership really means. We’re locked in an epic game of cat and mouse, but usually the hackers seem to triumph in the end.

59 thoughts on “Amazon Fire TV Update Bricks Hacked Devices

    1. Rick Osgood, you need to update this article. If indeed this claim is true that it doesn’t brick the device you need to change the article, otherwise its lie, and manipulation. If you can prove there is at least a soft brick, this too needs to be reflected.

  1. Unfortunately, until pending cases centering on the first sale doctrine fully play out, this kind of behavior will continue. The only way to address these tactics will inevitably be litigation, and that won’t happen until the right forces are aligned with enough people.

    On one hand, courts have been sympathetic to customers caught be restrictive licensing practices. On the other hand, they have often shown favour with arguments extending copyright law in ways not initially envisaged.

    Often the key to surviving such firmware attacks is to disable updates, but consumers want new features or big fixes or security fixes. The early-adopter type who crave additional features but not the hardware and security knowledge that hackers developing the exploits have.

    The current era of lisencing everything from music to hardware perhaps reflects the trend towards land rental and credit trends.

    But at least I know the difference between renting a house (paying for the use but not the capital), mortgaging a house (paying for use and a premium for having the money now rather than after saving , secured against the capital) and owning outright (sacrificing my existing capital to have usage and development/sale rights)

    At least my bank doesn’t burn my house down when I renovate the bathroom.

    1. Playing devil’s advocate, Amazon really seems to be these at cost, or near, and for people who intended to actually buy content from Amazon, it sounds like a good deal. If you ban companies from making these devices, the business model becomes unsustainable.

      By pushing for a ban, aren’t you simply forcing these customers to subsidize your preferences, by paying for features they don’t need? It’s not like there’s a lack of devices that can play content from USB drives or other sources. Why can’t Amazon and its customers have the freedom to make whatever deal they want?

      1. If Amazon sold an unlocked device, with more features, but for more money, would people buy it ? Maybe. They could even sell both types, just ensure someone with technical knowledge revise the projects so that the cheap one cannot be made to have the same features as the other.

        People who buy the box that just plays Amazon content should know that it should be used like that. If they want to use it to other things, find another device. If they modify the device and later it stops working, not Amazon´s fault.

        1. The problem with that outlook is that everyone wants “One Box to rule them all”… Something that can play Amazon Prime, Google Play, Hulu+, iTunes, Pandora, and all those media files they collected over the last decade from ripping (backing up, of course!) their DVDS and Blu-Ray collection. Unfortunately, all these competing services have locked each other out of distribution rights with the studios, so you have to pay for all of those different services to get the full complement of available streaming content. On top of that, none of the boxes sold by any of these companies will ever offer every app for every service.

          Enter the hacker to save us from the cluster of jailed boxen on our TV stand and the equally-daunting collection of remotes (unless you can find a Harmony remote that will work for more than a few weeks and for a price that is acceptable… Or you can scan the codes of all the buttons of all the remotes and build your own).

      2. Playing the consumers advocate. I purchased a device, I paid the price you asked for it, I did not agree to any contract as part of this purchase (usually because none was presented at the time of money changing hands), I will do whatever the hell I want with it – if that means ripping it apart and using it to play christmas carols while displaying its bare innards to the world, then so be it. I had this same argument with Sony – incidentally, I’m never buying another console either :D

        1. If I bought the house I have every right to knock down whatever walls I want, period. If It’s a rental, I don’t. It’s simple. If they don’t want the device tampered with, don’t sell it, lease it/rent it for the purpose of service delivery in much the same way ISPs offer a modem/router combo for ‘rent’, granted you can also just buy your own modem and router and do whatever you please with the hardware and firmware.

          Sony tried with the PSP. Loading custom firmware from sdcard by writing an exploit to a battery-pack’s eeprom was a nice work-around- which incidentally allowed me to (among other things) use my psp as a universal remote ( using the PSP to turn off my friend’s xbox 360 was always hilarious)

          Sony also tried to lock-down the ps3 by removing official support for linux (it’s ‘other os’ feature.) You can still do it of course, but dual booting is trickier now.

          In both cases I bought the hardware and did/will continue to do as I please with it. You don’t get to sell me something then tell me what i can and can’t do with it. Until companies realize that it’s entirely pointless to try doing just that- we’ll continue to see this kind of absurdity.

      3. OK, I’ll play God’s Advocate (and that is the actual title of the opponent of the Devil’s Advocate), Amazon is using the “Razor” business model for these devices, you sell the razor at cost and make money on propriety razor blades, this model has worked for over 100 years without any company ever disabling a razor no matter what the end user did with them. The fact is 95% of Amazon users will use the devices without rooting, all Amazons terminator updates do is generate bad press for the product and company, if they play nice with hackers they will make more money from good (or lack of bad) publicity than they will ever lose from hacked firmware. Amazon needs to give their collective head a shake and smarten up.

    2. if you choose to modify your device, or hack up the software, you risk and must accept losing/breaking original functionality or have it not work as intended. warranty void (if you will).

      really, i dont see why anyone would be too butt hurt about this. everyone knew eventually updates would patch issues. i understand the concern for setting a precedent, but if amazon wants to secure their systems, they can and they will.

      if you choose to consume the cloud content they provide, youve gotta live with it. if you wanted an open platform to hack and tinker with no repercussions and risk, you bought the wrong product.

      1. But there is a difference between hacking a device or object to change its functionality and failure not being covered by warranty, than systematically breaking other people’s functional modified devices with “essential” updates

        One analogy is this; a light globe and relay is fitted in your car; it is supplied free to all of that make and model and corrects a defect in the cars’ design.

        It is able to scan your whole car (you let them put the relay in the central control box, didn’t you?) and notices that the covers on the roof-rack attachment points have been removed. So it asks what kind of roof-rack is installed. The response is not “genuine or licensed”

        Because the vendor did not trial, design or demonstrate the safety of these unknown roof-racks, they do not want you to use them (you might crash “their” car because of the aerodynamics, or do more damage because of the unbalanced load. So the car can then;

        0) ignore it
        1) enter a “nagging” failure state that can only be rectified by using a “genuine” part that uses appropriate encryption. Think ink toner errors
        2) enter a state where the device is functional as is, but any further attempt at modification cannot be done – like release resin that gums up the control box, or reprogramming the control box so it won’t accept unauthorized parts itself.
        3) permanently disable your car citing breach of copyright and changing the programming in your car such that it will not work, even if you try to take the roof-rack off.

        Oh, and as long as the item has copyright able information on it or in it, they can DMCA anything on the internet that pertains to avoiding their limitations.

        Don’t get me wrong; I have happily paid a premium for “factory overclocked” peripherals and -K suffix intel chips.

        I object to laws meant to protect my great grandad’s diary and photo album being used in a way akin to crushing every tin of cola that I write my name on, simply because I might have written “cola-brand” instead.

        There is a difference between designing your device to do only it’s intended function, and limiting it to achieve that goal (the apple DRM defense) and reverse-engineering hacks of your device then punishing users that deviate from your predefined use case.

        Then suing them for piracy.

        Come to think of it, maybe we need to change our copyleft posure and start copyrighting the exploits in a way that brick patches can be DMCAd and the companies patching sued for illegally copying / pirating and breaching the end user license?

        I can dream

  2. wow. gee thanks amazon. this is exactly why i purchased one as soon as possible and never powered it up ;)
    wonder what a crazy person would pay for it now with original (exploitable) firmware and virgin efuses….

    1. Are you being serious?

      Did you predict that this situation would eventuate, and purchase a unit that you wouldn’t use, so that when there were hacks, and updates that circumvent the hacks, and more hacks to circumvent the updates, you would eventually have a device that you could hack to unlock a few features that you already have on your other devices?

      Even if you were 100% correct, why would anybody go to this much effort? just plug your laptop into your TV.

    2. Given hardware prices drop and specs improves over time. Why bother paying for the first gen of buggy hardware if you are letting it sit in a box. Wait until all the bugs are fixed and jail break is found, then buy one (and a spare if you want).
      A piece of hardware that is not being used is almost as useless as a piece of hardware you can’t use.

  3. “It seems that hackers and corporations are forever destined to disagree on who actually owns the hardware and what ownership really means.”

    it’s obvious that the person who paid for the hardware is the official owner of his own device (meaning he can do with it whatever he want to), and there is nothing the companies can do about it.
    if the corporations trying to brick a device, turning the hardware to be completely useless, then they “stealing” the device from you, it’s just sounds illegal.

      1. i know they meant that the update brick the device only if you rooted it (changed the firmware):

        “Amazon’s response to these hacks was to release a firmware update that will brick the device if it discovers that it has been rooted”

        but yet, i think that as far as you modify the device for your own use, they shouldn’t brick it, because it yours.
        (except of unfair use, such as: hacking, or copying the device\software to manufacture it in other factories)

        1. no, your assessment is false as well. their update bricked exactly ZERO boxes.

          and if you are worried about updated breaking your hacked box, disconnect it/disallow it from contacting amazons update servers. its that simple.

          didnt do that? lesson learned.

          1. okay then, but maybe you didn’t understood what i was referring to.
            I just expressed my opinion, in general, about companies use firmware updates to brick devices.
            i didn’t mean i’m concern my device to get bricked, or the device was bricked ect…
            i just talked in general, thats all.

    1. the person who paid for the hardware is the official owner of his own device (meaning he can do with it whatever he want to),

      oh yes they can choose to not install the firmware update

      and the person who paid for the hardware can choose to crush it under their foot or set it on fire or install unauthorized firmware

      “then they “stealing” the device from you”

      You still have the device after it is bricked, nobody has “stolen” anything from you.

      1. Rendering A product unable to do what it was advertised, sold and purchased to do that I have in my private home and have paid the sellers asking price is NOT RIGHT ! Just because the unit doesn’t disappear is no defense that I have not be robbed or suffered a unjust loss!! Mal-Ware is wrong and mostly illegal no matter the source, hackers in Albania, North Korean cyber war operatives, or the OEM!! Mal-Ware is software causing other than intended operation, denial of use, extortion or other shady or covert behavior of a device. The firmware “UPDATE” is just that Mal-ware intended to coerce or extort consumers into exclusive content delivery from Google ! Content available possibly available cheaper from other sources. It also prevents consumers from access to source content not available at all via Google! (I am thinking MOB type business model where a certain “family” made sure customers only purchased garbage disposal services from them, or they had “accidents” or got buried in their garbage. Generally a lot higher priced than if anyone else performed the same job! Maybe some folks could rewrite the firmware to launch some type of cyber attack on Amazon if they attempt to brick a device, Is it possible to examine a firmware update and figure out exactly how it bricks a unit? Then write a firmware “filter” that removes the brick capability either from the device (possibly via a physical circuit change, cut a trace or substitute a PROM for an EPROM so update cant modify the device, or software mod that prevents the updates ability to tell a unit has been altered, loop the check sum request and return a fixed or calculated “good” value to the update instead of whatever the real value that would have showed as a hacked box.
        Since its all about money and these units get programing from amazon over the web, perhaps it would be possible to get the amazon content blocked on some servers maybe in countries with better consumer protection rules, maybe on just enough server sites or carrier backbones and randomly to really throw a wrench in their PROFIT STREAM!
        I hate companies that think they can screw with products and even software that I OWN ! Why do I say I own it?? BECAUSE I PAID FOR IT! If the company thinks they need better profits then quit dumping the units and sell them at a profitable price, and realize when you sell something YOU DONT OWN IT ANY MORE !! (most folks learn this concept say between first and fourth grade!)

        1. “Rendering A product unable to do what it was advertised, sold and purchased to do that I have in my private home and have paid the sellers asking price is NOT RIGHT !”

          except that isnt the case here. sooooooooooo i stopped reading. their update didnt brick ANY boxes, and it still does everything it was advertised to do.

      2. they not really -stealing- it from you, that’s why i use quote marks (“”).
        when you buying any electronic device that include software/firmware (of any kind),
        they include the price of the firmware in the final price of the product,
        after all, the firmware (of non-open source product) isn’t free.
        so as the device owner, it up to your choice. like you said:
        “oh yes they can choose to not install the firmware update” “…or install unauthorized firmware”
        but, if the owner decide to install unauthorized firmware, and after then he decide to update it to the newer version
        (and forgot to flash back the original firmware), he will get bricked, and this is something that the companies must change.
        because bricking the firmware without be able to restore it, turn the device to be useless.
        and this is what i meant they “steal”, the price you paid for the device, that included the firmware cost.
        it could be much better if instead of bricking the device, they would limit it in some way, eg: disable internet access, popping up message on screen requesting from you to download original firmware, ect…

      3. I think what he meant to say was they’re committing an act of crime known as ‘destruction of property’ or at the very least ‘vandalism’ by rendering the device you own inoperable because they didn’t like what you did with it. They don’t own the device any more, they have no say or control over it’s use or misuse. They lost that when they sold it. (They could’ve rented it or leased it- but no- they chose to sell it) If I buy a collectable knife for a friend and have it engraved with a message for him, the manufacturer of the knife can do jack and squat about it. Whether my friend uses it to murder someone, butter his toast, or collect dust on a shelf is irrelevant. The same principal applies here. If the manufacturer of the knife were to break into the house (unauthorized access) and grind down the engraving, it would be illegal. If I buy a device, the manufacturer and/or distributor of the device cannot disable the device without my consent without it becoming destruction of property or at the very least- vandalism.

        Of course, I built and HTPC so that I have full control over the software and can watch whatever I want whenever I want. I saw no point in these devices since a computer can do much more than any and all of them.

  4. It even looks like a brick…
    The thing is, I don’t thrust companies even considering these kind of tricks anymore, which includes promises like “we will never do it again”. If Amazon wants to get of my list, they better start working on time travel. (Ask Sony how long people will remember breaking there stuff)

    1. Sony Xperia has always (at least in the Android era) offered a page on their site that lets you unlock the bootloader of your phone (after accepting a few agreements, of course).

        1. I was thinking more about Sony BMG, and there rootkits that added security holes to windows desktops during 2001-2007.
          There are at least 8 Sony companies. Don’t expect me to keep them apart when they all keep using the Sony name after one of then does bad PR move :-)
          (Nokia also used to have instructions on there website for how to get full root access to the phone. basically install an app, which asked if you’re sure about wanting root access.)

        2. Their mobile branch benefits simply from name recognition by a section of the consumer populace who doesn’t realize that they are two separate beasts, it seems fair they suffer from that same affiliation by a different section of the population who doesn’t realize they fall under different branches.

    1. Nope, however using aftermarket parts to boost the performance of your car shouldn’t result in the computer throwing a flag and subsequently refusing to let you start your otherwise perfectly functional car ever again.

      It is one thing if something you do actually breaks the device in question, when your own actions have actively voided any warranty from the manufacturer. It is a completely different thing when something you have done works and the manufacturer decides they don’t like it and go out of their way to break your functioning device.

      1. yes but in your example, in order to parallel the current situation, it would be like you willingly taking your car to the dealership to get an ecu upgrade. no one is forcing you to update the box you hacked up.

        1. I actually HAD to take my car in once to get the ecu updated because of their flawed emissions parameters. I couldn’t pass DEQ until it was done (car physically passed the smog test but the check engine light was on and ecu thought otherwise). I had to sign no less then three forms that said I did not modify my ecu and it was stock, otherwise it might corrupt the update.

    1. However, unlike the days of cavemen, it’s not just like buying or not buying a rock, and these days, new firmware can change a product completely after you’ve bought it – and this does sometimes mean removing functionality you had before.

  5. Amazon took the HDMI port out of my 4th generation Kindle fire so I choose not to buy the tv device when I am already paying.

    By hacking the amazon stick, you are really supporting renting instead of owning.

  6. After reading to to what degree Bezos is a labor abusing prick, I will not be purchasing anything that has an amazon brand on it. Beyond that if one desires hardware that they cam modify as they like, spend the money out right and eschew subsidized hardware. Although there’s really nothing wrong with using subsidized( discounted prices is subsidized) hardware if you are willing to live with any limitations.

  7. UUMMMMMMMM correction it did brick devices i rooted this box a few days after towelroot was released and used the box for a few days or so then it basically sat in sleep mode for months and last week i went to use it and BAM no more working fire tv for me it boots the white amazon logo and then goes black screen after that. i just discovered today thru my router tho that it is connected to my network so i opened up ADBfire and it did connect it meanwhile nothing is showing on screen and my tv says “no signal” i am able to screenshot my way thru the box but not able to see anything. But at the time i rooted my box there was no disconnect from amazon updates option available and i didnt know i would need to do this but now after a few months of now using i had what i assume is a blown efuse and a nice matte black paper weight.

    1. My father-in-law bought us a jailbroke fire tv stick with TVMC app on it. It worked great for a whole day. We left it plugged in, and the next day experienced the same thing you described, “it boots the white amazon logo and then goes black screen after that.” He bought us another one, and the same exact thing happened. I’ve been trying to search for a solution, but you’re the first one I’ve read who encountered the same problem. Let me know if you find anything out. Otherwise, I’ve also got two matte black paper weights.

  8. I still have towelroot and super SU installed but in my settings im now on version 51.14.1 and have a permanent black screen i think i’ll zap it with some electricity and call amazon and tell them it was stuck by lightning and have them send a new unit figured they bricked it they can replace it.

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