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The Wonders of The Jailbreak

The Wonders of the Jailbreak

In this article, I will discuss what jailbreak is, what you can do with a jailbroken phone, and if it’s legal or not (it is!). You’ll leave more educated and awed on the subject, and perhaps with a greater desire to jailbreak your own iDevice!

You’ve probably heard the term “jailbreaking” at some point, but what exactly does it mean?

The iOS operating system is like a close-walled garden, allowing somewhat limited functionality to the users. Jailbreaking an iDevice means exploiting software bugs existent in iOS to overcome limitations imposed by Apple on its devices. Essentially, jailbreaking gives users administrator-level privileges and allows them to customize their phone by downloading and installing 3rd party applications, extensions, and themes that are normally unavailable through the official Apple App Store.

Things you can do with a jailbroken device

Cydia — the gateway to customisation

the Cydia homepage (source)

The first step to customising any device running on iOS (jailbreak-compatible versions only, yes) starts through Cydia, which is included as a part of the jailbreak package. It can be called the jailbreak counterpart of the iOS app store, and is the portal for gaining access to all the applications, tweaks and themes that you can download and install to customize your iOS device. It was created by Jay Freeman (saurik).

So what can you do using Cydia? Although a better question would be what can’t you do with it, here’s an overview of the things you can do:

Tweaks: Tweaks are nifty packages that allow you to override or change various aspects of the native iOS, to increase its functionality and make it look better. For example, you can change the default font, the icon size or the layout of icons on the home screen, change your carrier logo and text, change the appearance of the battery indicator, to name a few.

the ColorFlow3 tweak colourises the music interface with the dominant colours of your album artwork
Noctis, a dark mode tweak for control & notification centre. FlipControlCenter —a customised control centre
System-wide dark mode using Eclipse 4. Also-subtle, but the distracting carrier name is hidden using HideMeX.
the Activator interface (image source)

Activator is one of, if not the most, popular tweak and it allows you to create an endless combination of handy gesture-, button- or 3D touch-based actions. For instance, I have set up Activator to play the next music track when I double-tap on the top-right corner of the screen, and the previous track from the top-left corner; to automatically stop the video/audio that is playing when I reduce the volume to zero; to disable mobile data when I connect to Wi-Fi; to turn on the flashlight and ringer when I text ‘PHONELOST’ – comes in handy when your phone is on silent and you can’t find it! The possibilities are endless.

the Veexilum theme with a 5 column layout (setup source)

Themes: Themes allow you to customise and change the look of the device’s interface. Unlike Android, where you can use launchers or custom ROMs, Apple doesn’t offer a lot of choices to change the appearance of your device. Thus themes are extremely popular in the Jailbreak community — there even exists a subreddit (r/iOSthemes), where you can share your jailbreak setups created using a mix of tweaks and themes.

Applications: You can download a plethora of applications that aren’t available on the App Store. Notable ones include file managers such as Filza, which allow you to access the entire file system of your device — unlike the new ‘Files’ app available on iOS 11 that permits you to view only your iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox or other cloud files — not the local file system. Using a mobile terminal like MTerminal, you can even use command-line tools on your device. iCleaner helps you to free up (lots of) space on your device by removing unnecessary files and f.lux allows you to adjust the color temperature of your device’s screen to reduce eyestrain.

All of that sounds amazing, but is it legal?

This was perhaps the first question that came to your mind, and the short answer is yes, jailbreaking is legal. However if you use jailbreak to download and install pirated content, such as side loading cracked IPAs of paid applications through Cydia Impactor, that certainly breaks the law.

A section of Apple’s website, which condemns jailbreaking, states that:

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

It states that jailbreaking may void your warranty; however, there is a simple workaround — you can easily remove the jailbreak in case your phone suffers from a problem that requires you to use the warranty service. Jailbreaks don’t leave a ‘footprint’ and Apple doesn’t have any magical device to check whether your iDevice was jailbroken in the past.

Jailbreaking’s legality is governed by laws related to circumvention of digital locks, like laws protecting digital rights management (DRM) mechanisms.

As per State laws, jailbreaking is permitted in India. This is because India’s copyright laws permit bypassing or circumventing DRM for non-copyright-infringing purposes. The Parliament passed a bill including this DRM provision in 2012 as the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2012. Also, India is not a signatory to the WIPO Copyright Treaty that mandates laws against DRM circumvention.

Much to the dislike of Apple, jailbreak is permitted in the United States too. A provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it illegal to circumvent restrictions put in place by manufacturers. However in 2015, the US government granted exemptions to smartphones, tablets, and a wide range of other devices. So, it is perfectly legal to jailbreak your iPhone, iPad or iPod.

Although Apple continues to take up legal battles to get copyright law to include jailbreaking as a violation, it hasn’t been successful in this endeavor. If you’re interested, you can give the legal drama a read here (the ‘Digital Millennium Copyright Act exemptions’ section).

Don’t forget though, using jailbreak tweaks and other functions for copyright-infringing purposes or piracy is very much against the law.

If jailbreaking is so cool AND legal, why doesn’t everyone do it?

There can be a number of reasons for this:

  • No need for it: Do you think your grandpa would want to jailbreak? Probably not. (If he would, then you’ve got yourself a cool grandpa, woohoo!). A lot of users simply don’t have the desire to jailbreak, because they enjoy the simplicity of the iOS system and do not long for added functions. They may not have the patience or even the ability to do so (read: twelve o’clock flashers). Sometimes, you don’t want to geek out for everything. Well, yeah, we’ve all had our “let’s try out all Linux distros” phase, but at some point you just want stuff to work so that you can focus on the more important things in life.
  • iOS upgrades: When you upgrade to the next version of iOS, your device will no longer stay jailbroken — Apple patches the exploit, so hackers have to search for another one before the new version of iOS can be jailbroken. This can take months or even years. Finding exploits gets harder with each successive version of iOS, which brings us to the next point:
  • Hackers are hired by big companies: Former members and hackers of the jailbreak community often join private security firms or Apple itself, as they receive hefty payouts for finding iOS vulnerabilities.
  • Instability: Jailbreaks can be unstable, too. The jailbreak itself or installed tweaks— which mess with iOS in unusual ways — may cause problems with your device and cause apps to crash or the phone to reboot more often. With a little time and knowledge, this can be fixed or even avoided. For instance, you should install tweaks only from well-known developers and repositories.
  • The annoying untethered jailbreak: At the time of writing, I needed to take screenshots of my device to show my new tweak setup and theme, but Cydia Impactor (the tool for jailbreaking) was facing errors and my phone wasn’t in the jailbroken state — just when I needed it to be! So I had to rely on the previous screenshots I had. Sigh. This is because the iOS 10.2 Yalu jailbreak running on my device is semi-tethered, meaning that you’ll have to re-patch or re-jailbreak using the Yalu app every time your device reboots, and re-sign your certificate every seven days using Impactor on a laptop or computer. This can be a hassle, but as they say, “No pains, no gains.”
  • Native implementation: Apple has also taken some of the best jailbreak tweaks and implemented them into iOS, reducing the need for jailbreaking. A prominent example is of the gestures in place of the home button on the new iPhone X. A tweak called Tage has been available on Cydia for several years and it implemented the same gestures. There’s a whole list of functions that Apple integrated into iOS. Wouldn’t it have been interesting if these tweaks were copyrighted and developers played the ‘illegal’ game with Apple? 
YouTube audio being played in the background — on the lock screen. This has now been implemented by YouTube Red.

Security tip for those of you who have a jailbroken device: If you have a jailbroken iPhone with OpenSSH installed, you should uninstall it or better, change your mobile and root password from the default ‘alpine’ to something unique, to prevent an SSH attack. Basically, it all comes down to knowing your root password for a hacker. Once that’s achieved, all he/she needs to do is successfully SSH into your device and your data will be compromised. You can change it using any mobile terminal from Cydia, like MTerminal.

In a nutshell, Apple obviously wants all its users running apps and software that are safe, smooth and stable. In ensuring so, it barely offers any alternatives for customising the device and changing stock features. By performing a jailbreak you are choosing to take a little risk for a lot, lot more control over your device.
If you’re intent on personalising your iPhone to get amazing functions, a different appearance, or you just want to fix minor annoyances — go ahead and jailbreak. You won’t regret it.

To know more about how to jailbreak and if your device is compatible, about tweaks and jailbreak in general, head over to the Jailbreak subreddit:

iOS Jailbreak (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) * r/jailbreak