Prison Laptop Gets A Hacker Jailbreak To Ubuntu Freedom

prison laptop gets a hacker jailbreak to ubuntu freedom
When you think of prison, you probably do not think of technology, and in fact, you may think of the lack thereof. However, a plethora of correctional facilities and inmates utilize technology, and not just that which is smuggled in. Laptops are great for educational, leisure, and other purposes, but they also must be safe for the correctional facility environment, which makes them a bit different from laptops we are used to. Thus, when Wenting Zhang somehow got their hands on one of these specialized prison laptops, it became an internet curiosity on X, formerly Twitter.

Yesterday, Zhang, who goes by @zephray_wenting on X, posted a picture of what appeared to be a fairly generic clear-shelled laptop with the explanation that they bought a prison laptop, and it is a bit more than generic. However, at first glance, the laptop is pretty boring, with no USB ports, no hard drive, and a BIOS password locking everything up upon boot. The first clue to figuring out exactly what this is is a model number NV116APNB, which can be tied to the Justice Tech Solutions (JTS) Securebook 5. This is an 11.6” transparent laptop powered by an Intel 8th Generation Quad-Core Celeron N3450 running at 2.2GHz and paired with 4GB of LPDDR3 2400MHz RAM.

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Digging any further into this interesting tech specimen, sadly, would require getting over the hump of the BIOS password. Thankfully, Zhang has the know-how and wherewithal to get past it using a flash programmer, which is a “generic way of clearing the password on [American Megatrends] BIOS machines.” Curiously, after clearing the password and flashing it back, the password returned somehow. This was thanks to a feature, whether intended or not, where the BIOS would reset, bringing back a default password when the machine was fully powered down with the battery and power cable removed.

flash prison laptop gets a hacker jailbreak to ubuntu freedom

As such, Zhang devised a “hacky solution” to reflash the BIOS chip without removing power from the board. From there, they could get into a BIOS security screen from which they could set passwords they could view in memory to see how it is encrypted. However, this was a bit much to dig into cryptographically and was unnecessary to boot to a device. Therefore, that would be the next stop in the prison laptop adventure.

usb prison laptop gets a hacker jailbreak to ubuntu freedom

Since this device did not have a USB port, there was no obvious easy way to boot into something, so it had to be a hard drive only. In digging into this, Zhang found that there was a hard drive allow list, with the normal hard drive being “China SATA3 240GB SSD,” which is not super helpful in replacing the missing drive. As such, it was time to get a little more hacky by adding a USB hub onto the laptop using the touchpad connector. From here, Zhang could boot into an Ubuntu MATE 22.04 amd64 Installation USB drive.

This is where the story settles down, but only after discovering that this laptop can run DOOM, because why not? It also would seem that Zhang is not the only person to have their hands on these laptops, and there is a niche community of folks patching BIOSs, finding hacky workarounds like those noted here, and otherwise. You can follow the rest of the thread and see all the engagement it garnered from people like Wenting Zhang. Let us know what you think about this curious bit of tech in the comments below.