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Avast Academy Security Other Threats What Is Jailbreaking and Is It Safe?

What Is Jailbreaking and Is It Safe?

Jailbreaking refers to removing software restrictions built into iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads. Before springing your Apple product out of software jail, consider this: Is jailbreaking safe? Is jailbreaking legal? One thing’s for sure, jailbreaking exposes your device to viruses and other security threats. So before playing your get out of jail card, shore up your phone with a strong antivirus and security app.

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If you’re wondering whether jailbreaking a phone is the same as unlocking a phone, it's not. While a jailbroken phone can also be unlocked from carrier restrictions, jailbreaking a phone is a much deeper alteration than a simple carrier unlock, which doesn't change the core infrastructure.

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    What about rooting? Is rooting a phone the same as jailbreaking a phone? In practice, yes. Rooting a phone gives unrestricted (root) access to the operating system. This is true for both Androids and iPhones. In practice, though, rooting is the term used for modifying Androids, while jailbreaking is the term used for iPhones.

    What is jailbreaking, exactly?

    Jailbreaking means granting root access to an iOS device like an iPhone, and thus removing software restrictions that are intentionally put in place by Apple, the device manufacturer.

    But why would Apple intentionally block customers from using products however they want? There are a lot of reasons, not all geared toward user satisfaction. Generally, the built-in software restrictions on an iPhone or iPad are geared toward user safety, legal protections, and, of course, revenue (Apple makes money from every App Store purchase).

    The technical jailbreak definition uses the term “privilege escalation.” Privilege escalation means taking advantage of a design vulnerability, flaw, or bug in order to get a higher level of user access. It's essentially a backdoor way of exploiting a vulnerability in the way a device's software or operating system is designed. And that's perhaps the main reason why Apple does not approve of jailbreaking.

    What does jailbreaking an iPhone do?

    Jailbreaking an iPhone modifies the operating system, giving you unauthorized root access to the jailbroken device’s core software and structure. So, what can you do with a jailbroken iPhone? Besides slipping through the wormhole to the underground jailbreaking community, and potentially exposing your device to hackers and viruses, there are some reasons why jailbreaking an iPhone or other iOS device might be desirable. With a jailbroken phone, you can:

    • Freely do as you please with your phone or tablet.

    • Access third-party apps outside the official App Store.

    • Customize and personalize your phone and its settings more deeply.

    • Unlock carrier restrictions.

    Let's get into the pros and cons of rooting an iPhone and dig a bit deeper into the reasons for wanting a jailbroken device.

    The pros and cons of jailbreaking your iPhone

    There are advantages and downsides to cracking the code on your smartphone. You may be wondering whether jailbreaking is worth it, or if there are reasons not to jailbreak your device. Only you can decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. But regardless of whether you jailbreak your phone or not, we recommend downloading strong security software for your device.

    Jailbroken iPhones are more susceptible to malicious software, but even a non-jailbroken iPhone is vulnerable to hackers and malware. Avast One goes beyond the out-of-the-box protections you get when you buy a phone, providing 24/7 security against the variety of threats the internet can throw at you — entirely free.

    Now let’s get into the pros and cons of jailbreaking iPhones in more detail, starting with the most common reasons people jailbreak.

    The benefits of jailbreaking:

    Cool customizations, easy file sharing, and loopholes around carrier restrictions are some of the most common reasons to jailbreak.

    • Device customization: Jailbreaking lets you remove manufacturer-specific default apps, forgo file restrictions, and customize the look and feel of your phone or tablet. Tech-savvy users crave this benefit of jailbreaking.

    • Downloading unauthorized apps: Getting an app approved for the App Store can be a long and tedious process. Jailbroken devices can bypass the App Store and go straight to alternative app sources like Cydia. And while Jailbroken iPhones can still access the official App Store, they can also access open-source packages and apps available elsewhere.

    • Unlocking carrier restrictions: As mentioned above, jailbreaking a phone and unlocking a phone are not the same thing. But one of the benefits of a jailbroken phone is the ability to unlock carrier settings, letting you switch carriers if you’d like.

    Sounds nice and dandy, right? Well, with the good comes the bad. There are also plenty of cons to jailbreaking an iPhone.

    The risks of jailbreaking:

    A jailbroken phone is, well, broken in many ways. And with the fracture comes consequences, including increased susceptibility to malware and piracy, along with a whole gamut of unforeseen problems.

    • Malware installation: The biggest threat to jailbroken devices is a malware infection. Without the built-in security of the Apple framework, jailbroken phones are more vulnerable to hackers and malware. Such is the case in 2015 when more than 250,000 jailbroken iPhones got hacked and exposed to ransomware, stolen passwords and unauthorized purchases.

    • Reliance on the jailbreaking community: Once you break out, you're stuck in. You can always do a hard reset or update your phone to the official iOS version to undo the jailbreak. So a decision to jailbreak can be easily reversed. But if your incentive is to use your rooted device, you’ll need to rely on the jailbreaking community to release the next hack.

    • Exposure to piracy: Although more access seems good, it also means more access to illegal content and activities. Pirated content is not on the App Store, but it may be on Cydia and other sources for content outside the App Store.

      With a jailbroken phone, you’re left navigating these legal waters at your own risk. And it may be tricky to prove that you’re not part of a pirating or hacking scheme through the apps you download.

    • Loss of phone warranty: Apple strongly condemns jailbreaking and makes the act a breach of contract and loss of warranty.

    • Fragile system: While there are plenty of jailbreaking services to help you with the initial break, it's up to you to care for your ruptured system. Jailbreaking means exploiting a system vulnerability. So once jailbroken, you've opened up a wormhole of other potential system crashes, including possible data corruption and a battery that dies more quickly.

    • Unforeseen issues: When a jailbroken phone crashes or runs out of battery, it has to be connected to another device to be turned back on. This is called a tethered jailbreak and demonstrates one of the many challenges a jailbreaker newbie may face. There’s also an untethered jailbreak, which allows for powering on and off unassisted. These are the types of unknown pitfalls jailbroken phones can face.

    The decision to jailbreak your iPhone depends on how much you value device customization. If it's a top priority for you, either get an Android, or accept the risks of jailbreaking your iPhone.

    But don’t ever accept the risks of leaving yourself vulnerable to malware and exploits. All smartphones are potential targets of cybercrime — that’s why our team of in-house security experts built Avast One. It's easy, safe, and free to get strong threat protection from a world-class free mobile security app.

    Is jailbreaking legal?

    Yes, jailbreaking is legal in the United States as of 2010, based on an exemption for smartphones in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This law protects digital copyright and intellectual property, which includes software for smartphones and other devices.

    Section 1201 of the DMCA states that it’s “illegal to circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title … or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner.”

    But to keep up with technological changes and interpretations of what is lawful and just for consumers, congress reviews and updates the law every three years. Each legal review adds more devices that are exempt from proscriptions on jailbreaking or circumventing control access — including smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, smart speakers, and smart home appliances.

    In 2018, smart home devices like smart light bulbs were made exempt from the DMCA. Here are some other devices you can legally jailbreak in the US, along with the year they were made exempt.

    In the US, it's legal to jailbreak or root smartphones and many IoT devices.Since 2010, jailbreaking smartphones has been legal in the US.

    Additional legal restrictions around jailbreaking depend on where you live. The European Union — along with India, New Zealand, and the UK — has similar laws concerning digital copyright that state that jailbreaking is legal, as long as the alteration is for non-copyright-infringing purposes. This covers running alternative software, but not playing pirated games or running pirated apps.

    Is jailbreaking safe?

    The honest answer is no. A jailbroken device is unequivocally less safe than a standard-issue phone. Jailbroken iPhones are easy targets for malware attacks, system crashes, and worse. Indeed, hackers have been known to prey specifically on jailbroken iPhones with click-fraud schemes.

    You need to evaluate the risks of jailbreaking an iPhone for yourself and determine if those risks outweigh the benefits.

    For some people, the risks of a jailbroken phone are worth it, and they learn how to jailbreak safely. But for most of us not interested in constant vigilance, jailbreaking is not worth the risk. For those who do choose to jailbreak, we recommend learning how to remove viruses and malware from an iPhone and getting to know the best privacy and security apps for iPhones.

    Can you tell if a phone has been jailbroken?

    Yes, there are a few ways to know if your phone has been jailbroken. But the easiest and fastest route to checking for a jailbroken phone has been taken away by Apple itself.

    Find out if your device is jailbroken by searching for the Cydia app or restoring factory settings.There are ways to check if you have a jailbroken phone.

    In 2016 an app called System and Security Info iOS by SektionEins was released (and approved) for the App Store. This paid app did a quick scan and told you if your iPhone was jailbroken. But after a few short weeks of success (the App went to number 1 on "Top paid Apps" in both the EU and the US), Apple removed the SektionEins app citing shaky compliance reasoning.

    The SektionEins app is just one example. As a general rule, any application with built-in jailbreaking tests will be immediately banned from Apple’s App Store.

    Nevertheless, if you think you have a jailbroken iPhone, there are some things you can do.

    1. Find Cydia: On your iPhone, search for Cydia, the alternative app store. Even if it’s hidden, this search will find the app. If Cydia is there, it's a jailbroken phone.

    2. Restore factory settings: If you don't want to worry about whether or not your phone was jailbroken, an easy way around is to restore factory settings. Restoring factory settings brings back whatever may have been lost to jailbreaking.

    Is it possible to jailbreak an Android phone?

    Yes, you can jailbreak an Android phone, but note that it’s more commonly called rooting when it involves an Android device. Rooting is a technical term, while jailbreaking is the more colloquial one. To get unrestricted control access, you need to root your device, and such unrestricted access lets you “break out of jail.”

    The difference between jailbreaking an iPhone and rooting an Android device goes beyond just the definition of rooting. Androids are built for customizations, while iPhones are designed with user controls held tightly. But just like iPhones, antivirus software, too.

    Apple and Google (the company behind the Android operating system) support their customers in different ways. Apple tries to protect its customers with tight barriers, while Google lets people customize their products to some extent.

    Unlike Apple devices, Androids can “sideload” third-party apps from outside the Google Play store without the need for rooting. But this freedom gives hackers some additional ways to infiltrate Androids with viruses. But don’t worry, if you think your phone is vulnerable or has been infected, check out our guide to learn how to remove viruses from Android phones.

    Protect your device with trusted mobile security for iOS

    Whether your iPhone is jailbroken or fresh off the shelf with factory settings, using a strong mobile security app is imperative. iOS devices are not immune to digital threats, particularly if you wipe away security infrastructure by jailbreaking your device. Avast Mobile Security for iOS has loads of easy-to-use features to enhance and protect your everyday digital life.

    Not only does our iOS app stop hackers in their tracks with malicious-website blockers and vulnerability alerts, it also uses advanced threat-detection technology to automatically analyze the security of your Wi-Fi network. Want to encrypt your photos? Done. How about being notified if your passwords are compromised? Avast Mobile Security does that, too.

    Join the millions of people around the world who rely on Avast to protect their smartphones. Avast One is free to use, simple to manage, and a top-rated app on the App Store. Install it today and give your mobile browsing peace of mind.

    Protect your Android against threats with Avast One


    Protect your iPhone against threats with Avast One

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    Carly Burdova