Apple's iOS is a walled garden that gives the company total control over what can be done with its device. For years, jailbreaking your iPhone was easy and allowed all sorts of custom freedom. It's been a while since a simple jailbreak has been released. But this week, a Google researcher made an announcement that has the dying jailbreak community ready to get crackin'.
If you're unfamiliar with jailbreaking, it's simply a method of exploiting an iOS vulnerability to take full control over what your iPhone can do. Basically, it gives iOS a lot of the freedom and customisation that's available on Android. Apple likes to maintain control over what can be done on iOS because it keeps things running smoothly, it keeps things secure, and there's plenty of profit in having the power to decide what apps are OK.
When jailbreaking first hit the scene, it offered a way to customise Apple's rigid interface, use apps that weren't approved, pirate mobile software, and install game emulators. The feature that was likely the most important, at first, was that it allowed people to use the iPhone with carriers that didn't offer it. These days, that isn't much of an issue. Most of the problems that led people to jailbreak have been solved. And as iOS has become incredibly secure, jailbreaks have dried up, the jailbreak community has crumbled, repositories have closed, and it looked like it was the end of an era.
As Motherboard points out, this simple message meant a lot to the jailbreak community. Apple just patched iOS 11.1.2 last week, and what developers believe Beer is hinting at is that he'll be releasing an exploit that could be used by others to create the first full publicly available jailbreak since iOS 10. From the report:
A couple caveats: Beer is probably not going to release a full, untethered jailbreak, meaning you will have to plug the phone into a computer to exploit it every time it boots up. But he is likely going to release the closest thing to a public jailbreak that anyone can find. iOS 11.1.2 is a nearly up-to-date operating system that was only updated last week.
Motherboard spoke to several security researchers who confirmed that they believe that Beer will likely be handing out the keys to the castle for jailbreaking iOS 11. The Reddit community is buzzing, and Jonathan Levine, a well-known expert on iOS, tweeted that he'll be releasing a toolkit soon to help with the jailbreaking process.
Part of the reason that jailbreaking has become less common is that reporting vulnerabilities to a bug bounty program is big business for researchers. If you find something, you can make a lot of money by reporting it and letting Apple fix it. But Google doesn't need that money. Beer does research on iOS for Google's Project Zero, a program aimed at keeping the world more secure (and occasionally embarrassing rival companies). Project Zero locates exploits and gives companies 90 days to fix them before threatening to go public. If everything is what it seems in this case, Apple's been given its time to fix it, and if you don't update, you could be playing Nintendo ROMs and using custom skins in no time.
There a couple things to keep in mind. If you're on an old version of iOS that's jailbroken, updating to iOS 11.1.2 could put you at risk of losing jailbreak-ability if no tools end up coming out. Also, iOS being extremely secure is good for you. Even though iOS 11 has had a rocky launch, it's still a great option for protecting yourself. The world is different than it was in 2007 when jailbreaking exploded. Hackers are better than ever. Jailbreak at your own risk.