Tonight there’s going to be a jailbreak

Date:1 January 2011 Tags:, ,

You can, but it’s risky. First, some background: jailbreaking basically means manipulating the firmware on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch so that it can run programs that – for one reason or another – weren’t cleared through Apple’s official App Store. (It’s not to be confused with “unlocking”, which is the process of, for example, hacking a network-locked phone to enable it to run on another network.) Despite a number of security risks, enterprising users have been jail-breaking their phones pretty much as long as these devices have been around. In fact, incremental updates to Apple’s iOS mobile operating system have begun to feel like a cat-and-mouse game: Apple releases a new version of its OS, and hackers find a way to crack it open – often within hours.

Until recently, jailbreaking lived in that murky grey area where so much of digital copyright law resides. (Technology tends to move a lot faster than legislation.) In the US, for instance, although it seems to be a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which forbids people from hacking copy-protection software, not a single person has been prosecuted for it. Any doubts as to the legality of jailbreaking were laid to rest in July when the Library of Congress, which is charged with reviewing and issuing specific exceptions to digital copyright law every three years, ruled that the process is definitely legal.

So why would you want to jailbreak your device? First, because you can, and it’s incredibly easy. Beyond that, Apple is famously strict about what sort of programs it allows in its App Store. By jailbreaking your iOS device, you can load it with programs that didn’t get past the App Store gatekeepers. Jailbreaking also allows you much more freedom to manipulate backgrounds, fonts and the general feel of your gadget.

And whereas jailbreaking used to involve a drawn-out process of downloading and synching various files, new methods allow it to be done in seconds without even plugging in the device.

First step: back up your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch in iTunes – that way, if anything goes wrong, you can easily recover all of your files and contacts. Then open the device’s browser and direct it to jailbreakme. com. You’ll be greeted with a bar labelled “slide to jailbreak”. Slide the bar, wait for the process to finish, and reboot your device. Congratulations! Your Apple device is now jailbroken.

When your device reboots, you’ll see an app called Cydia on the home screen. Cydia is a sort of renegade app store – a hub for downloading all sorts of programs that didn’t make it into the official App Store (I’m a particular fan of ones that allow you to synch your device over Wi-Fi and turn off its accelerometer) – and a great place to get started exploring the possibilities of a jailbroken device. (It should be noted that Apple had effectively blocked this browser-based method of jailbreaking as of press time, but we fully expect hackers to get it working again – perhaps by the time this issue hits newsstands. Either way, a quick Google search should reveal alternative methods for jailbreaking your device.)

However, jailbreaking isn’t for everybody. First of all, although it may be legal, Apple insists it violates the warranty. And while the process lets you experiment with unauthorised programs, it also exposes you to a certain amount of risk. Apple has done a very good job of keeping viruses, malware and other types of programs that could potentially damage your device out of its App Store. Jailbreak your gadget and you leave the relative safety of this protective bubble. A number of cyber-security experts warn that jailbreaking a device could leave it vulnerable to viruses and hackers. We’ve also heard reports of some jailbroken devices generally acting slow and buggy. So, potential jailbreakers, proceed at your own risk.