Is a jailbroken iPhone for you?
The "evad3rs" team has published its "evasi0n" jailbreak tool (for free) to the iOS community. The team claims that in roughly a week, some 7 million users have used the tool to jailbreak their iOS devices. By any measure, the launch -- already up to Version 1.3 to support Apple's iOS 6.1.1 release on iPhone 4Ses -- has been wildly successful.
But is jailbreaking your device something you want to do? Let's consider a few issues before you dive in.
First, just what is jailbreaking? It's the process of removing the sandbox protections that Apple places in its iOS products. Its purpose is primarily to enable users to install unreviewed (by Apple) software on their iOS devices. Secondarily, it enables users to access files they normally wouldn't be permitted to, which opens up all sorts of possibilities for customizing an iOS system. Many technically inclined users find liberation in these things and loathe being locked into a sandboxed device.
There are entire unsupported (again, by Apple) communities where apps can be purchased or simply acquired for free. These communities don't have the strict curation policies that Apple employs in its App Store, and that is exactly its appeal to the jailbreakers. Indeed, many apps that were rejected by Apple over some policy violation or another have ended up in the jailbreak app communities.
Is it legal? Apparently it is, at least in the U.S. In 2010, the U.S. Copyright Office declared jailbreaking to be an exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But the situation is not exactly cut and dried. See here for more information, but it seems that jailbreaking an iPhone in the U.S. remains legal, while doing the same to an iPad is not. The bottom line is this: if you're at all concerned about the legality of jailbreaking your device, you're probably well advised to abstain. And be aware too that Apple maintains that jailbreaking may well void a device's warranty.
Is it safe? The answer probably has more to do with you than with anything else. Most jailbreaks completely remove iOS's app sandboxing features, even after the device has been booted up after the jailbreak process itself. At this point, all apps essentially run in a privilege state where they can all read/write pretty much anywhere on the device. This opens up a jailbroken device to possible malware, data exfiltration and so on. Essentially, a jailbroken device has all the file protections of a Windows 3.1 system. It's a single-user device, and every app can get to everything.
This is one of the aspects that appeal to many jailbreakers, but for the masses, jailbreaking can be a pretty reckless act. After all, nearly five years after Apple launched its App Store, we have zero in-the-wild malware samples on non-jailbroken iOS devices. Meanwhile, several malware incidents have occurred in the jailbroken app community, including at least one worm that exploited a default sshd password to copy itself among jailbroken iOS devices.
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