For better or worse, Apple likes to keep the iOS as closed as possible. But calm down folks. There are limits beyond which even Apple won’t venture. Killing your jailbroken iPhone, without your permission, is one of them.
A few days ago, the Web was buzzing about an Apple patent, filed back in February 2009 but just now revealed, that describes new security measures that may someday (assuming the patent is ever implemented) appear in iOS devices.
Of particular interest, the language of the patent contained several references to jailbreaking, such as: “…an unauthorized user can be detected by noting particular activities that can indicate suspicious behavior. For example, activities such as…jailbreaking of the electronic device, unlocking of the electronic device, removing a SIM card from the electronic device,…can be used to detect an unauthorized user.”
It further stated: “When an unauthorized user is detected, various functions of the electronic device can be restricted.”
Numerous Web postings (such as this one from CNET) suggested that this could mean that, if Apple detects that you have jailbroken your device, it could remotely wipe your iPhone — or otherwise “kill” or “brick” it (the exact verb varies among different postings). Most ominously, Apple could do so without advance warning and without the permission of the owner of the device.
In other words, whatever else the new security measures might be able to accomplish — they would be yet another means by which Apple blocks jailbreaking.
I remain extremely skeptical that Apple has any such intent here. The truth is almost certainly more benign. This can be discerned via several phrases of the patent text, such as:
“The owner may desire to find out where the lost electronic device is located or who may have gained possession of or stolen the electronic device.”
“In some embodiments, an alert notification can be sent to a responsible party when an unauthorized user is detected. The ‘responsible party’ can be any persons suitable to receive the alert notification, such as, for example, the owner of the electronic device, proper authorities or police, persons listed in a contact book in the electronic device, or any combination of the above.”
In other words, the intent here is a system designed to help the owner (authorized user) protect the data on their iOS device, should that device be stolen. In this sense, it is an extension of what you can already do via Find My iPhone and Remote Wipe.
The logic is that an attempt to jailbreak your iPhone might indicate that someone is attempting to gain unauthorized access to your (confidential and protected) data. In this instance, and with your permission, certain security measures could be taken to prevent the unauthorized access.
The suggestions that the measures described in the patent would be used by Apple as a sort of virtual neutron bomb, killing any and all jailbroken iPhones (even if the jailbreaking had been done by the owner of the device and even if the owner would object to such “killing”), are simply ridiculous.
I have certainly been critical of many instances of Apple’s behavior in this arena over the years, especially as regards Apple’s restrictive App Store policies. But the current speculation assumes that Apple would go well beyond anything it has done this far. I don’t buy it. Actually (with the usual caveat that I am not a lawyer), it seems doubtful that Apple would have the legal authority to do so.
It’s one thing to try to prevent jailbreaking methods from working or to refuse to offer support for jailbroken iPhones. But, especially considering that jailbreaking is legal, to delete personal data from your iPhone without your permission? I don’t think so.
Let’s all take a deep breath. It’s time to calm down.