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Tuesday, April 20, 2010, 12:00 pm PT (03:00 pm ET)

Apple warns iPhone OS users of jailbreaking risks

Apple has posted a support document targeting iPhone jailbreaking, noting that "unauthorized modification of iPhone OS has been a major source of instability, disruption of services, and other issues," including compromised security.

The article addresses "adverse issues experienced by customers who have made unauthorized modifications to the iPhone OS (this hacking process is often called 'jailbreaking')."

The support note says, "as designed by Apple, the iPhone OS ensures that the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch operate reliably. Some customers have not understood the risks of installing software that makes unauthorized modifications to the iPhone OS ("jailbreaking") on their iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Customers who have installed software that makes these modifications have encountered numerous problems in the operation of their hacked iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Examples of issues caused by these unauthorized modifications to the iPhone OS have included the following:

Device and application instability: Frequent and unexpected crashes of the device, crashes and freezes of built-in apps and third-party apps, and loss of data.

Unreliable voice and data: Dropped calls, slow or unreliable data connections, and delayed or inaccurate location data.

Disruption of services: Services such as Visual Voicemail, YouTube, Weather, and Stocks have been disrupted or no longer work on the device. Additionally, third-party apps that use the Apple Push Notification Service have had difficulty receiving notifications or received notifications that were intended for a different hacked device. Other push-based services such as MobileMe and Exchange have experienced problems synchronizing data with their respective servers.

Compromised security: Security compromises have been introduced by these modifications that could allow hackers to steal personal information, damage the device, attack the wireless network, or introduce malware or viruses.

Shortened battery life: The hacked software has caused an accelerated battery drain that shortens the operation of an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch on a single battery charge.

Inability to apply future software updates: Some unauthorized modifications have caused damage to the iPhone OS that is not repairable. This can result in the hacked iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone OS update is installed.

"Apple strongly cautions against installing any software that hacks the iPhone OS. It is also important to note that unauthorized modification of the iPhone OS is a violation of the iPhone end-user license agreement and because of this, Apple may deny service for an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch that has installed any unauthorized software."

Apple fights for control of its App Store

Last year, Apple argued against claims filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation which proposed a legal exemption to the DMCA that could enable large scale commercial jailbreaking that could no longer be challenged under existing laws. The EFF argued such an exemption would allow more innovation and investment in creative works.

Apple argued that the "EFF apparently desires to use the rulemaking process to alter Apple’s business practices by negating DMCA protection for technologies that interfere with what EFF seems to assume would be a more socially desirable business model that is more 'open.' Specifically, it seeks through the proposed exemption to clear the path for those who would hack the iPhone’s operating system so that a proprietary mobile computing platform protected by copyright can be transformed into one on which any third party application can be run, without taking account of the undesirable consequences that would ensue from the transformation."

The company stated that its App Store market is a critical part of what has made the iPhone successful. "The platform provided by the OS has created positive feedback loops so that a large community of developers has been willing to invest in iPhone technologies, elevate the platform and the iPhone user experience, and benefit themselves, Apple and consumers alike." Apple also outlined the iPhone OS' security model as a potential casualty of any exemption.

It also cited the company's existing problems in dealing with millions of error reports from jailbroken phones, and cited the a variety of new issues it would have to deal with if the DMCA was relaxed to protect widespread commercial jailbreaking. Those factors included the unrestricted distribution of potentially harmful apps that could flood mobile networks, perform malicious actions, enable widespread piracy, and cause crashes or service degradation and stability problems.

The ruling on the DMCA exemption is still pending (and has been since late 2008). A ruling could be handed down at any time. However, any exemption granted would would only apply to the iPhone and not to the new iPad, since the EFF's original complaint did not anticipate its delivery when filing for an exemption to legally protect jailbreaking.

Apple has taken no legal action against individuals who jailbreak their iPhone OS devices, other than to issue warnings about potential problems this may cause and the possibility of a loss in warranty coverage that might result from software tampering.

The company's position against the EFF-proposed exemption appears to be targeted at preventing large scale commercial efforts to dismantle Apple's control over its own platform and replace it with a model more like Android Market, where there is less development, less commercial motivation to create apps, large security holes in how apps are installed, and no coherent strategy for progressively moving the platform ahead. The Android platform is in many respects similar to a jailbroken iPhone.