As you head to your local Walmart today for America’s annual reenactment of The Hunger Games, here’s a reminder that sucker-punching someone to get the last $50 tablet might not be the wisest course of action. For several reasons.
The main complaint that you hear against the kinds of cheap, Chinese no-brand tablets filling the aisles at Walmart is that they’re terrible to use – and they are! But, it turns out that cheap tablets also tend to be riddled with security problems. Bluebox Labs, a security software firm, recently ran a test on a number of cheap tablets on sale at big-box stores. Unsurprisingly, they found security holes you could drive a small truck through.
A bunch of the tablets they tested had the malicious app protection – the setting that prevents you from installing apps from unknown sources – turned off by default. That makes it far more likely that the five-year-old you foist the tablet off to will download malware, and your credit card number will be gone before you can say ‘suspicious charges from a Siberian minicab firm’.
The worrying discoveries don’t stop there, either. A number of the tablets came rooted out of the box, making them more easily compromised by a lazy hacker; a couple were signed using a test signature for AOSP, a custom version of Android, which would make rolling out a malware-infected system upgrade easy; and Staples’ $39 tablet even had some security features painstakingly removed for no good reason.
Then, of course, there’s the programs that come pre-installed to ruin things. Bluebox didn’t go into details, but claimed that a few tablets came installed with adware, or custom versions of Angry Birds that collect extra user data.
So, from a security perspective, it’s fairly clear that cheap tablets are crap across the board. And it’s not like there’s any other redeeming features: cheapo crap tablets are – surprise! – universally slow, buggy, often don’t have access to Google’s app collections, never get updates, and are built with components that make an Etch-A-Sketch look premium. If you really want a tablet for $50, pick up a used Nexus 7 off eBay – or better, save up the extra hundred bucks and splurge on something that actually works. [Bluebox Labs]
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