How Do Remote iPhone Unlocking Sites Work?

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As reported by MacRumors, a number of sites have sprung up recently that offer to remotely unlock your iPhone for use on other cellular networks. Typically, in order to unlock an iPhone, you would have to jailbreak it first. Although the process has become increasingly stream-lined it is still a hack and thereby inherently scary to some. Remote unlocking sites, such as CutYourSim are now charging upwards of $180 but claim the unlock is permanent without any alteration to your iPhone firmware. Those are some bold claims at a steep price- so how does it work?

Infamous iPhone hacker MuscleNerd shed some light on the matter, Tweeting “they're not using a hack. They're using actual access to the Apple database (which is why the unlock happens through iTunes).” Apple apparently has a whitelist database of unlocked iPhones, so if hackers did discover a way to add IMEI’s to it, the claim is theoretically true. That’s not to say Apple won’t find a way to identify the falsified unlocks and remove them from their database, and you'd better believe they'll be trying. I also imagine Apple is frantically looking to plug up whatever security hole is at fault here, be it a bug in iTunes or some shady (yet entrepreneurial) Apple employee.

While the US Government’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act specifically sanctions jailbreaking as legal (though wholly disapproved by Apple), unlocking remains in a legal gray area- and while I find it amazing that hackers not only discovered Apple’s unlock whitelist but found a way in, but I don’t imagine the exploit will be available much longer.

Do you have any further insight on how remote unlocking sites work their magic? Share your comments.

Mike Keller is GeekTech's resident iOS developer nerd. Catch Diary of a Developer every Tuesday here at PCWorld's GeekTech blog.

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