Yesterday, the infamous iPhone Dev-Team released an update to their jailbreaking software, known as PwnageTool. The latest release hacks iOS 4.3.1 and comes out three years almost to the day as the very first PwnageTool, which initially hacked firmware 1.1.4. Given last year’s federal legislation essentially deeming jailbreaking legal and the ubiquity of jailbreak tools being released alongside firmware updates, has Apple finally abandoned the fight against iOS hackers?
When the first PwnageTool was released in 2008, it spurred a fierce cat and mouse game between Apple and Dev-Team hackers. Apple modified their EULA to more specifically forbid jailbreaking and furiously patched exploits with every subsequent firmware update. Apple even filed a patent for a remote “kill-switch” to return a device to its factory settings when unlicensed software was detected.
The Dev-Team began keeping exploits on reserve in an effort to always have a hack on the ready with each new iOS. More than once, PwnageTool was updated on the same day of (or even before!) the public software release. In 2010, the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act was amended to specify that jailbreaking did not violate any copyright laws. One would think such a definitive statement from the federal government could finally quell Apple on the whole jailbreaking issue- and while Jobs and Co. have seemingly retreated from any public disapproval of jailbreaking of late, their stance against it remains.
Recent activity on a Dev-Team hacker’s Twitter feed has alluded to the possibility of Apple going so far as infiltrating the hacker group with spies- in an effort to identify hacks on deck and plug up security holes before they are exploited. If this is true, it points to the fact that Apple has in fact not given up on combatting jailbreakers, they have only take a more furtive approach. Jailbreaking once posed a serious competitive threat to Apple, enabling features such as multi-tasking and video recording well before official releases. As iOS has adopted many of the previously jailbreak-only features (and in arguably more elegant implementations), the functional importance of jailbreaking has shrunken, though the principal of it remains. Apple and their walled garden may no longer have any legal grounds to condemn jailbreaking, but that doesn’t mean they have to like it.
Mike Keller is GeekTech's resident iOS developer nerd. Catch Diary of a Developer every Tuesday here at PCWorld's GeekTech blog.