Deep Dive Into A Prison Laptop

The phenomenon of prison electronics is by now relatively well-documented, with striking transparent radios, televisions, and kin easy to recognize. Yet what about prison laptops? As it turns out, these are a thing as well, and [Zephray Wenting] got one from eBay to investigate, as documented over at Twitter (ThreadReader single page). Much like their audiovisual brethren, these laptops lack basic features in the name of prison security, which in the case of this laptop means for example no USB ports. Even the spacebar stabilizer rod is missing. Weaponized keyboards are apparently a thing in corrections facilities.

The Justice Tech Solutions Securebook 5. (Credit: Zephray Wenting)
The Justice Tech Solutions Securebook 5. (Credit: Zephray Wenting)

Called the Justice Tech Solutions Securebook 5, it has been superseded by the Securebook 6. Inside this earlier unit, you’ll find an Intel N3450 with 4 GB LPDDR3, with SATA for storage and a special dock connector. Some laptops come with WiFi hardware installed, others are unpopulated. It appears that these Securebooks by default have a BIOS password that cannot be erased, even by removing it from the NVRAM (‘CMOS’), as it’ll return on the next boot due to an automatic BIOS reset. This was temporarily bypassed through a hacky external SPI Flash adapter, but the reward for all this trouble was a BIOS setup screen with just the ‘Security’ tab.

It’s now been sleuthed out that the default password is N%(dU32p as reported by Hackaday’s own [Adam Fabio] on Twitter. It turns out the password was available on a (now private) YouTube video. [Techknight] on Twitter has delved into EFI BIOS hacking. He has an alternate BIOS image that does provide access to the full BIOS setup utility. With BIOS access not being necessary to boot the system, the question that [Zephray] went ahead with was how to boot it into an OS since the original HDD or SSD had been removed prior to being sold. The bad news here is that it turned out that the system has a HDD whitelist (which [Sark] found a way to bypass). The good news is that someone has probed the system before, with the storage device being reported as ‘China SATA3 240GB SSD’.

Rather than mess with this, it was attempted to boot from USB, by tapping into the USB lines for the touchpad, which turned out to allow booting into a live image of Ubuntu without fuss. As an ongoing project, it’ll be interesting to see what more functionality can be wrung out of this piece of prison kit, all hopefully from the right side of the prison bars.

Thanks to [livelaughliang] for the tip.

30 thoughts on “Deep Dive Into A Prison Laptop

  1. “see what more functionality can be wrung out of this piece of prison kit, all hopefully from the right side of the prison bars” ….. surely, being conscious of the laptop’s normal environment, you’d need to do this INSIDE the prison bars? (There might be extra security features inside the confines of the building).

          1. But that is a meaningless number. It doesn’t prove anything either way.
            If he is saying “import even more”, you’d need to look at the difference between now and a point in the past.

            It’s like early-days Covid: “Oh, only 200 people have it, nothing to worry about”.

      1. American Megatrends, also known as AMI, is one of the original inventors of the BIOS. Almost all PCs in the 90s would show this company’s name when first turned on.

        The joke is, America’s “mega trend” is putting people in prison.

    1. With the US being No.6 in the world list of country’s per capita incarceration rate and sharing space in the top 10 with such noble and upstanding countries like Rwanda, I’d say American Megatrend is pretty accurate.

  2. The only appeal of this laptop is the clear case and key caps, so it could be nice to get rid of the underpowered internals and replace them with a Framework motherboard or similar.

    1. Both, but with a length of 5 inches you can fashion a stabby thinggie pretty fasty.
      The lockpick won’t work for automatic doors. It will be used as a sping or as a ziptie if not broken in two and used to make 2 spearheads with toothbrush handles.

    2. It could be used with a lighter (contraband, but highly available in prisons) to cut or shape plastic. Might be helpful for hanging clothes to dry (you have to hand-wash in a bucket and hang-dry) or for tattooing. Also possibly used for smoking hash or other drugs (pick up a bit on the end of the wire, vaporize with a flame nearby, inhale as best as possible – drugs are also surprisingly available in prison).

      1. Or, people who need access to computers to write term papers to help get themselves back on their feet while in a correctional facility might use them to…

        While I wouldn’t be doubting anyone’s ingenuity, the most valuable use of the laptops is probably as laptops.

  3. For over 12 years, I have directed a college program for people in prison. We are funded entirely through grants and donations. There are sixty people, mostly women, in the prison working to obtain their associate and BA degrees.
    Several years ago we purchased the DOC approved laptops in this article so that our students could write papers using Microsoft word and learn to use computers. There is no internet in the prison. Last Thursday, the WA State Department Corrections confiscated all laptops from students in prisons throughout the state because of this article. This is over 1000 computers.

    Given some of the comments here, I invite people to learn more about college in prison and incarceration in our country. The US has 4% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners. No other country imprisons at the rate we do. Education is critical because women are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. prison population, and women of color are overrepresented in prison. Many women in prison have had minimal access to education, 60-70% have experienced domestic violence or abuse, and the majority come from impoverished backgrounds. Once released, women have often accrued significant debt, carry the stigma of incarceration, and they are barred from many employment opportunities. This traps them in a cycle of poverty and leads to a higher risk of their children being in prison. Education is an effective way to break this cycle.

    I invite you to learn more about college in prison, the technology constraints in prisons and the work that people in prison are doing in punitive and restricted circumstances to transform their lives, achieve an education and some tech literacy. These are people who will someday be back in our communities. All people are entitled to be treated with dignity.
    Here is our national organization promoting access to education in prison:

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