Thousands of iPhone owners have joined forces with a team of hackers to help them find new ways to jailbreak Apple’s phone software.
Jailbreaking involves unlocking a device so that it is not restricted to running software officially approved by the manufacturer.
Mobile phones that run Google’s Android operating system do not face this restriction and Microsoft allows its Windows Phone 7 operating system to be unlocked. But Apple has always fought very hard to prevent anyone jailbreaking its devices.
The latest version of the iPhone’s operating system is proving to be extremely hard to jailbreak fully, according to Joshua Hill, a member of the Chronic Dev hacker team.
“Apple is really making it tough for us. The iPhone is now better protected than most nuclear missile facilities,” he says.
Bugs may result in a program crashing or shutting down, and they are like gold dust to hackers because sometimes they can be exploited to create a jailbreak.
To help prevent this, Apple’s phones record details of program crashes and send these reports back to the company. Apple’s programmers can then analyse the crash reports and fix any underlying bugs that pose serious security risks.
The solution to this problem is to subvert Apple’s crash reporting capability by turning it against the company, he says.
“Chronic Dev is ready to turn this little information battle into an all-out, no-holds-barred information WAR,” Mr Hill wrote on the Chronic-Dev blog recently, using his nom de guerre Posixninja.
To do this he has written and distributed a program called CDevreporter that iPhone users can download to their PC or Mac. The program intercepts crash reports from their phones destined for Apple and sends them to the Chronic Dev team.
“In the first couple of days after we released CDevreporter we received about twelve million crash reports,” he says.
Jailbreaking phones is legal in the United States, thanks to a ruling in July 2010 by the Library of Congress – an agency that carries out legal research for the US government.
“There’s nothing Apple can do that would make jailbreaking impossible,” he says.
“Apple will always add new features to its phones, and there will always be bugs in its software. It’s just a matter of find the right ones.”