Feeds

Teen hacker re-unlocks Apple's iPhone

Gets firm with firmware

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

A teen hacker known for his deftness with iPhones has figured out how to unlock models running the latest firmware versions by cracking a protection that has frustrated hackers for weeks.

The breakthrough by George Hotz, aka Geohot, means people who have bought a recent iPhone will once again be able to use it on the phone network of their choice. Apple makes as much as $400 for every handset that's activated on an approved network, so its developers have worked hard to prevent the so-called unlocking of iPhones.

Last year, 17-year-old Geohot was among the first group of hackers to break Apple's iron-fisted grasp on the iPhone, a coup that won him a Nissan 350Z and 3 8GB iPhones. Apple promptly responded by issuing updated firmware that stymied such efforts. Not only did the updates disable modified phones, effectively turning them into $400 bricks, they also prevented unlocking software from working in many cases. The arms race has persisted ever since.

The latest salvo was fired late last week, following a 24-hour hacking spree by Geohot that was broken up by only three hours of sleep. It turns out the latest firmware contained modifications to the device's memory registers to prevent unlocking. Geohot worked around those changes by finding another, much higher register that was vulnerable.

"I guess Apple thought big numbers were harder to guess," he wrote.

He then found a way to install his custom-built code by exploiting a flaw that allowed him to erase a range of memory addresses where security software is stored.

"The technique was not one that I was familiar with at all," said Kevin Finisterre, a researcher who has spent a fair amount of time dissecting Apple devices. "From the read it sounds as though the gentleman has made some significant progress. More importantly he is sharing."

This latest unlocking is no small accomplishment because iPhones are programmed to accept only approved SIM cards. Geohot's technique appears to work around this limitation by writing to certain sections of the firmware.

The hack is highly technical and by no means for the faint of heart. Those iPhone owners in need of more hand-holding should check out step-by-step instructions here from iClarified. ModMyiPhone also offers a tutorial here.

Several weeks ago, analysts at Bernstein Research estimated that 1 million iPhones, or a full 27 per cent of the handsets sold to date, are running on unauthorized networks. At that rate, Apple could lose $1bn in revenue over the next two years. Rest assured that developer drones in Cupertino are already laboring to circumvent this latest workaround. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
Four fake Google haxbots hit YOUR WEBSITE every day
Goog the perfect ruse to slip into SEO orfice
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.