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History of Jailbreaking


Hey guys, it’s Greg with Apple Explained,
and today we’re going to explore the history of jailbreaking. We’ll start with some background information
– like what jailbreaking even is and why people would want to jailbreak their device
– and then we’ll take look at the different software used to jailbreak over the years. And finally, we’ll get Apple’s response
to this whole concept. This topic was the third place winner of last
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which video you’d like to see next. So, basically, jailbreaking is a type of “privilege
escalation.” Now that’s a pretty technical term so let
me break it down. User privilege refers to how much access a
user has to any given system, in this case iOS. And when you jailbreak your iPhone, you gain
additional access to parts of the operating system that were previously restricted – so
you’re achieving an escalated level of privilege on your device, so privilege escalation. And this is usually achieved by exploiting
some kind of design flaw or bug in the operating system. So to sum it up, jailbreaking is a way for
users to do a lot more with their iPhone than what was previously possible. The term “jailbreaking” originated with
iOS, which began pretty much as soon as iPhones were released, but it’s been used to describe
privilege escalation in other systems as well, like Playstation. Similar tools have been developed for other
systems in recent years. For example, “rooting” became a popular
process among Android phone and tablet users to escalate privileges on those devices. Thanks to a huge community of hackers, developers,
and coders that love to tinker with technology, there’s been a way to jailbreak pretty much
every iteration of iOS within a short time of their release. Now there are a few different types of jailbreaks:
untethered, which is the most desirable of them all since it allows you to run apps and
tweaks and reboot your device with no consequences. Tethered, which requires a computer each time
the device is rebooted. And semi-tethered, which allows you to reboot
your device, but you may not be able to run any jailbreak apps. More recently, semi-untethered jailbreaks
have become available, where the device needs to be jailbroken every time you reboot, but
it can be done by an app on the device instead of requiring a computer. So, there are several reasons why someone
would want to jailbreak their device. When the first iPhone was released, users
quickly noticed that they didn’t have administrator privileges – and this limited quite a few
functions of the device for more savvy individuals. Apple claimed good reason for these limitations
– which I’ll explain in detail later – but the pull towards unlimited access was too
strong. First, jailbreaking would allow users to fully
customize their devices. That meant installing alternative character
input systems, accessing the command-line for apps to make changes, and fully customizing
the interface. In addition to customizing apps already downloaded,
jailbreaking allowed users to download apps and software that weren’t available in the
App Store. Although most of the apps rejected from the
store contained harmful tools like malware and spyware, which meant you had to exercise
caution when downloading unauthorized apps from a jailbroken device. Finally, one of the biggest motivations for
jailbreaking was the lack of carrier compatibility for the original iPhone. Up until 2011, AT&T was the exclusive wireless
carrier for iPhones. And this was a problem for a lot of users,
who didn’t want to be locked into expensive contracts with an exclusive carrier, change
carriers from their existing plan, or had bad cell service with AT&T. Jailbreaking was the most effective way to
allow the iPhone to be used on different wireless networks. But users trying to escape AT&T still ran
into issues with early termination fees, importing “never locked” phones from other countries,
and being forced to activate a contract before leaving the store with their device. Despite attempts by Apple and various carriers
to prevent jailbreaking for this purpose, it was and still is used to allow the iPhone
to be activated with carriers outside of what’s officially available through Apple. Alright, so now I’m going to talk about
some of the early versions of jailbreaking software. The first jailbreak is credited to a young
man named George Hotz. He was seventeen years old at the time in
2007 and, using an eyeglasses screwdriver and a guitar pick, managed to remove the piece
of hardware that tied the carrier to the phone and use his first-generation iPhone with T-Mobile. Shortly after, a group of hackers uploaded
a Youtube video showing an iPhone playing a custom ringtone, proving that they’d successfully
accessed the protected operating system. Sparked by these two events, the jailbreaking
movement was born. And yet another hacker group called the iPhone
Dev Team released jailbreak software in October 2007 that allowed for minor adjustments and
hacks to be installed onto an iPhone. This version, called JailBreakMe or AppSnapp,
was accessible through JailBreakMe.com and just required the user to “Swipe to Jailbreak”
to start the process. At one point, hackers would simply walk into
the Apple store and jailbreak phones on display so often that Apple blocked the JailBreakMe
website on their in-store wifi. At this point, there was a lot of interest
in the jailbreaking community. Apple responded by discouraging users from
jailbreaking their devices, saying that it could cause significant harm and the company
released several updates to repair the vulnerability jailbreakers were exploiting. However, hackers were always quick to come
up with a new jailbreak shortly after a new iOS update was released. Steve Jobs referred to the constant back-and-forth
as a cat and mouse game – and he wasn’t sure if Apple was the cat or the mouse. The iPhone Dev Team released a new version
of what it then called “PwnageTool” for iPhone OS 2 in 2008, and with it introduced
Cydia – a platform for finding, downloading, and installing software on jailbroken devices. Now, Cydia has been one of the most important
developments in jailbreaking history. It was developed by a guy named Jay Freeman,
and essentially became the first app marketplace. Cydia allowed users not only to download apps,
but to install tweaks, customize content, and use their iPhone like never before. Users could install ad blockers, change themes,
make calls outside of the AT&T network, and change up data storage settings. The partnership between Cydia and JailbreakMe
would remain strong for several years. Following Cydia’s release, the iPhone Dev
Team became a small community of hackers making pretty significant money. Their relationship with Apple was strained
and complicated, Freeman and other hackers would often show up to the Worldwide Developer’s
Conference and one of their team members, Ben Byer, actually turned out to be an Apple
employee himself. New iPhone releases continued to be hacked
within days of their release – iOS 3.1.3 and 3.2 came with the release of Spirit, a
one-click tool developed by Nicholas Allegra, who later released JailBreakMe 2.0 for the
iPhone 4 – another one-click tool that was accessible via the Safari browser. Other hackers entered the jailbreaking world
over the years, and several other software versions were created for new iOS and iPhone
releases. Some of these tools included Limera1n and
Absinthe. Nearly every release has had its own jailbreak,
and the same small group of hackers has usually had something to contribute. However, as time passed, jailbreaking became
less popular since Apple began integrating more jailbreak features into iOS and opened
up wireless contracts to more carriers. What was once a popular maneuver for almost
10% of iPhone users has now become mostly a hobby. Nonetheless, there are currently a few popular
tools out for jailbreaking iOS 11 – Electra, RootlessJB and LiberiOS. Electra is a semi-untethered jailbreak and
was developed by CoolStar for iOS 11 in January 2018 – but it didn’t initially support
Cydia. A new version was released in February of
2018 with Cydia support, and could be ran on iOS for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch as
well as tvOS on Apple TV. LiberiOS is another semi-untethered jailbreak
that came out just before Electra in December 2017. And Rootless JB was released later, in July
2018. Again, the popularity and functionality of
jailbreaking have declined significantly in recent years, but you can still expect to
see a new tool for every iOS version. Now, the legality of jailbreaking has always
been a gray area. After Cydia’s rise in popularity, Apple
officially declared jailbreaking illegal, citing copyright law. However, just one year later in 2009, the
Librarian of Congress ruled against that claim. But the battle didn’t end there. Apple continued year after year to fight jailbreaking
– both with patched iOS upgrades and with attempts for litigation. However, the hacking has proved far more difficult
to eliminate than Apple initially expected. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA,
is opened up every three years for the public to discuss exemptions like jailbreaking. In 2012, the U.S. Copyright Office accepted
a DMCA exemption for jailbreaking, stating that, while Apple is free to try countermeasures
against it, jailbreaking doesn’t actually violate any copyright laws. In 2015, that exemption was expanded to include
not just iPhones but tablets, as well. As Colombia Law professor Tim Wu stated in
2007, “unlocking Apple’s superphone is legal, ethical, and just plain fun.” Of course, not everyone thinks that jailbreaking
is fun. Apple obviously has had a problem with it
from day one, and that problem got bigger when revenues from the App Store were effected
because of pirated content from Cydia. As soon as people started hacking, Apple released
a statement claiming that jailbreaking causes serious issues for devices and users. Today, there’s a page on their support website
that says: “Unauthorized modification of iOS can cause security vulnerabilities, instability,
shortened battery life, and other issues, which include dropped calls, unreliable connections,
and disruption of services like iMessage and FaceTime.” While they may have some selfish reasons for
keeping people from hacking their mobile operating system, there is some truth to Apple’s claims
– there have been several data breaches of jailbroken iPhones, including a massive
leak of 220,000 Apple usernames, passwords, and device information in 2015. Others have voiced concerns that jailbroken
devices are susceptible to surveillance and tracking by government officials, including
local law enforcement agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But whether or not the government is tracking
jailbroken phones, one thing is for sure – jailbreaking voids your device warranty. Any iPad, iPhone, iPod, or Apple TV that has
been jailbroken can be denied service by Apple – regardless of when or from where you purchased
it. So, if you’re considering jailbreaking your
iOS device, it basically comes down to this – unlocking your iPhone, iPad, or iPod may
give you access to a few fun tweaks, free and blocked apps, or additional carrier options. But, most of its benefits have diminished
over the years as Apple has made iOS a much more fully featured and capable operating
system, not to mention that jailbreaking can open you up to some serious risk and exposure. On top of that, the DMCA exemption is up for
review this year – and jailbreaking may not remain legal forever. Overall, jailbreaking has a rich history that
was truly built from the ground up. Individual hackers and hobbyists with mostly
positive intentions have managed to outsmart Apple year after year, and each new iOS update
poses a new challenge to overcome. Cydia remains the largest and most popular
platform for jailbreak software management, and is now available in over a dozen languages. As the iOS 12 beta goes public, we can only
guess what new tools will be available to jailbreak future Apple devices. So that is the history of jailbreaking, and
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