Android modding isn't the hot scene that it used to be, mostly because Android phones have gotten good enough that few people feel the need to modify them. But a brave new world for tinkerers just opened up, right when a decent chunk of people might need it. A developer has released a basic tool for gaining root access on a Roku TV, dongle, or set-top box, and it's ready to try out.
"Llamasoft" posted what they're calling a persistent root jailbreak for Roku devices running OS version 9.4.0 4200, for all hardware using a Realtek Wi-Fi radio. According to the developer, this should be "almost all" Roku TVs and some Roku set-top boxes. The tool creates a telnet server that allows the user access to developer mode on the hardware, unlocking a collection of "secret screens" and debug menus in the standard interface.
The process isn't very difficult (at least not compared to rooting the average Android phone), requiring the user to enable developer settings, upload a ZIP file, and then follow a few on-screen prompts. But of course the aftermath is a little more complicated. You'll need to download any apps you might want from the Roku store before rooting your device, as the process will break the connection with Roku's software servers (which means no app updates, either). The good news is that it's an easy process to revert: a factory reset of the device should undo any changes and let you get back to the official Roku software channel. Unfortunately, those devices that have already been updated to version 10 of Roku's operating system can't use this tool.
At the moment there isn't much you can actually do with a rooted Roku device, though pointing towards a custom DNS might open the door to ad blocking (which would be a godsend for all those "free" streaming services that are popping up, including The Roku Channel). But if rooting Rokus catches on, we might see custom applications from the developer community before too long ... or maybe even a workaround to bring YouTube TV back to the embattled platform. I mean as its own app, not as the workaround that Google already implemented.
Roku quickly updates OS
Roku reached out to us after this story was posted. It looks like a quick operating system update is going to close the vulnerability that made this root process possible; avoid a software update if you want to try it out. Here's the statement:
As part of our continuous monitoring, the Roku security team identified and addressed vulnerabilities in the Roku OS – though these vulnerabilities did not expose customer data and we did not identify any malicious activity. We always want to do everything we can to maintain a secure environment for Roku, our partners, and our users, and we therefore mitigated the vulnerabilities and updated Roku OS 9.4 with no impact to the end user experience.