Google's OnHub turns out to be part router, part Chromium OS computer

onhub sleeve off
Credit: Michael Brown

While Google cheerily advertises the 13 antennas packed into its new OnHub router, the company’s been less forthcoming about the software under the hood.

Now that some hackers have rooted the high-tech Wi-Fi router, we have some clarity: OnHub appears to run a heavily-modified version of Chromium OS, the same browser-based software that powers Chromebook laptops and Chromebox desktops.

The root method for OnHub first appeared on Exploitee.rs. It turns out that the router’s underside contains a hidden switch underneath one of its screws. This switch can boot OnHub into developer mode if you enter a specific keystroke, using a keyboard plugged into the router’s USB port. That keystroke is Ctrl + D, which is precisely what you’d use to enter developer mode in Chromium OS.

“The Google OnHub is at heart a Chromebook without a screen modified as a router, and our root method is just a modified version of booting Developer Mode,” Exploitee.rs wrote. The group has now posted detailed OnHub rooting instructions for those brave enough to try it themselves.

Why this matters: As we noted in our OnHub review, Google’s router is designed for novices instead of enthusiasts. Its sole USB port is good for nothing except restoring system images, and its Trusted Platform Module prevents the installation of alternative firmware. Now that the root method is public, we could see some additional uses open up—albeit at the expense of security. And who knows? Maybe you’ll soon be able to repurpose OnHub as a cheap Chrome OS desktop if you tire of its usefulness as a Wi-Fi access point.

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