Apple takes steps to defeat jailbreakers in iOS 5

Jun 28, 2011
Tech

Apple doesn’t take kindly to users who try to “jailbreak” their iOS devices and do things with them that the Cupertino company doesn’t intend or allow. Jailbreaking is the term for disabling various software locks that Apple includes in its iOS operating system. Basically, it’s hacking the iPhone, allowing it to do things like download […]

Apple doesn’t take kindly to users who try to “jailbreak” their iOS devices and do things with them that the Cupertino company doesn’t intend or allow.

Jailbreaking is the term for disabling various software locks that Apple includes in its iOS operating system. Basically, it’s hacking the iPhone, allowing it to do things like download apps from stores besides the iTunes App Store or work with carriers besides AT&T and Verizon. But each new version of iOS attempts to stop jailbreaks, as these basically stop Apple from controlling its devices and which carriers they can use, or what apps they can support.

There are several hacking groups that actively work on breaking each new version of iOS that comes out, but iOS 5 includes some new hurdles, according to a story from Mashable. Users who upgrade to iOS 5, and all the restrictions that come with it, will have a hard time trying to go back to their jailbreaking ways. Apple has instituted new restrictions that are meant to keep users from downgrading their devices from newer versions of iOS to older ones; jailbreaking usually takes place on old versions of iOS because they’ve been available longer and hackers have had more time to work on breaking them.

Apple has designed iOS and iTunes to verify what version of iOS a device has, and if there’s an upgrade available, to try to push it to the device. Users can choose not to upgrade, but once they have upgraded, they can’t go back. “The current workaround is for users to backup their SHSH blobs before upgrading the software,” Mashable writes. “This ensures that an older version of the OS and firmware can be restored at a later time.”

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In iOS 5, Apple has altered the creation of these “blobs” to make reverting to earlier iOS versions more difficult. According to Mashable, each time an iOS device is rebooted with the new software, a blob is regenerated. Backing up a blob before a reboot won’t allow it to be reverted because a new one will already have been generated.

Apple’s new iOS update, which is due in September, also allows for updates over the air rather than through syncing with iTunes. This could mean smaller patches being downloaded automatically to iOS, allowing Apple to find holes in the software’s security being exploited by hackers and plug them, making it tougher to jailbreak an iPhone or iPad and keep it jailbroken.

Will Apple’s efforts be the end of jailbreaking? Not likely, especially given the popularity of iOS devices and Apple’s often iron grip on control of the devices and the ecosystem in which they run. But jailbreaking, like all hacking, is an arms race, and Apple is about to roll out some new ordinance.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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