iPhone Hackers Set Up One-Stop Jailbreak Shop
Jailbreaking an iPhone once required a fair amount of time, patience and confidence in one's technical prowess. Now, users of iOS 4 devices need only direct the Safari browser to a new website that automates the jailbreaking process. After that, users can download applications that haven't been approved by Apple.
Owners of iPhone 4s who want to jailbreak their devices in order to install apps not approved by Apple can now do so easily with the latest version of the JailbreakMe app.
All they have to do is go to the app's site using the phone's Safari app, and the built-in Web browser on the device will do the rest.
The app was updated just days after the Library of Congress ruled that jailbreaking an iPhone is legal under the Digial Millennium Copyright Act.
While jailbreaking gives iPhone users more control over their devices, it could lead to increased malware infections.
The JailbreakMe "app" runs on any iOS device -- the iPhone, the iPad or the iPod touch.
Its latest version of JailbreakMe doesn't require users to have much technical savvy at all -- when they visit the app's site, it automatically downloads, then installs itself and installs the Cydia Store, which carries jailbroken apps.
The jailbreak is reversible, according to the app's site. A user wishing to go back to the original configuration just has to connect the iOS device to a computer, sync it using iTunes, and then press "Restore."
I Wanna Be Free
The Cydia Store's servers have reportedly been overwhelmed by downloads following the release of the latest version of JailbreakMe.
Cydia's owner, Jay Freeman, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
However, the number of iOS4 device owners who use JailbreakMe will be small, Carl Howe, director of anywhere research at the Yankee Group, told MacNewsWorld.
"When you have 239,000 apps to choose from, as you have this week, consumers won't be jailbreaking their devices because of a lack of choice," he pointed out. "They're doing it simply for the novelty and fame of having a jailbroken device," he said.
The app's ease of use will likely be its major attraction.
"I imagine that ease of use is its only draw," Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, told MacNewsWorld.
Nourishing the Tree of iLiberty
Though jailbroken iPhone users may gain the ability to use non-approved apps, they also may not be able to get any tech support from Apple.
"Apple has indicated that jailbreaking would effectively break its warranty, and in the past, it put together a software fix that bricked jailbroken iPhones," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, pointed out.
At that time, Apple's justification was that jailbreaking was illegal, King told MacNewsWorld.
"Apple doesn't have that kind of cover anymore with the new DRM ruling, but I do think the vast majority of iPhone users would wonder what they could gain from jailbreaking to justify losing the warranty," King said.
"For those who absolutely, positively feel like they must jailbreak their iPhones, they should make good friends with some of the third parties who produce software for, and repair, iPhones," the Yankee Group's Howe said. "After all, should you have a future problem with your phone, you'll need to take it somewhere other than the Apple Store."
Making America Unsafe, One iPhone at a Time
Perhaps the larger danger jailbroken iOS devices pose is that they could make it easier for malware to spread.
Apple, which has always frowned on jailbreaking, warns that it could compromise security and lead to other problems.
In November of 2009, jailbroken iPhones and iPod touches were hit by malware twice.
Two weeks earlier, owners of jailbroken iPhones were hit by the "Ikee" worm, which "Rickrolled" victims -- it installed a picture of pop singer Rick Astley and displayed the message "Ikee is never going to give you up" on their hacked iPhones.
"Ikee" was created by Australian student Ashley Towns to remind iPhone owners who jailbreak their devices to change their default login password. The "Duh" worm was more dangerous -- it created a mobile botnet and changed the passwords on victims' iPhones so users couldn't get back into their devices but the criminals could.
"One of the reasons why iPhones have been a largely threat-free environment is the tight control that Apple has had over the apps that are allowed to run on the devices," Sophos' Cluley said. "Jailbreaking opens up more doors for hackers to find a way to run unapproved apps harboring malware on iPhones."
Where Does the Buck Stop?
If a jailbroken iPhone is hacked, the infection might spread to non-hacked iPhones.
"People have been predicting the possible dangers when hackers and malware authors finally began going after the mobile platforms, and we're in the early days yet," Pund-IT's King warned. "I expect the problem to grow exponentially in the next few months."
What happens if the owner of a jailbroken iPhone uses the device at work and infects enterprise systems?
There's no easy answer for that one.
"If a virus is introduced or damage does occur from a jailbroken device, is it the creator of the jailbreaking technology who's responsible, or the end user who chooses to download that jailbreaking technology?" PundIT's King asked.
"If that scenario occurred, Apple would be able to simply say it's not responsible," King added.