The Dangers of the Unauthorized Use of Apple Products

November 11th, 2009

So far at least, the Mac platform has been relatively free of malware, despite continued growth of Apple’s market share. Although some skeptics continue to rant about the inevitability of a major outbreak someday soon, it hasn’t happened so far.

But all that presumes that most Mac users run their computers in the authorized fashion, although there are a fair number of hobbyists who have taken to installing Mac OS X on a vanilla PC, which thus become “Hacintoshes.”

On another front, Apple’s latest success story, the iPhone, originally arrived without third party software, other than those few developers who opted to create a Web-based service for Safari. This inspired many customers to jailbreak their phones to allow for the installation of real software, even if it was unapproved.

The practice of sidestepping Apple’s built in security model clearly has potentially dangerous consequences, as some of you have no doubt heard. Indeed, Intego, a Mac security software publisher, has issued a memo about the arrival of an apparently serious iPhone virus:

“Following the recent discovery of a worm that changes wallpaper on iPhones, Intego has spotted another piece of malware that attacks iPhones, one that is far more dangerous than the ikee worm. This hacker tool, which Intego identifies as iPhone/Privacy.A, takes advantage of the same vulnerability in the iPhone as the ikee worm, allowing hackers to connect to any jailbroken iPhone (iPhones hacked to allow installation of software other than through iTunes) whose owners have not changed the root password.”

Now there are actually no antivirus apps for the iPhone. At best, you can install the latest version of Intego’s VirusBarrier X5 and update the detection strings to at least eradicate the iPhone virus if it turns up on your Mac. That will help prevent you from passing it on to an unlocked iPhone, but there is no comparable protection on a Windows PC.

The easiest solution is, of course, to change the root password of your jailbroken iPhone, or, even better, don’t tamper with it. This sort of behavior may seem fun and all, and it will definitely allow you to access features that Apple has placed padlocks on. On the other hand, it also means that you are opening yourself up to a wider universe of unintended consequences, and the potential for malware infections is probably just a part of what might go wrong.

Returning to the Hacintosh community, it appears to be true that the Snow Leopard 10.6.2 update really does remove support for the Intel Atom processor, widely used on those ever-popular netbooks. Now I don’t have to remind you that Apple has no product available that uses that processor, and they are under no obligation to assist hobbyists who install Mac OS X on unauthorized hardware. Indeed, if you try to make a business of it, and attempt to stand up to Apple, you face being smacked down by a lawsuit.

When it comes to the Atom, no doubt the hacker community will come up with a solution to prevent 10.6.2 from bricking those netbooks. That’s how things work, and don’t be surprised if a 10.6.3 arrives that removes support for the workaround, although I rather think that this is not Apple’s priority. Sure, they’d prefer to sell you a genuine Mac, but if individuals want to violate the user license and install Mac OS X on unapproved hardware, that’s their problem. Apple’s not responsible for supporting those installations, and I would certainly caution you to avoid using a Hacintosh for business purposes. If it stops working, or you lose your data because of something that wasn’t Apple’s fault, where do you go for support? Sure, there are hobbyists out there who might assist, but it’s not as if they’re doing it for a living, and maybe they just won’t have the time to help everyone who needs it.

When it comes to jailbreaking your iPhone, I wonder whether that practice makes much sense anymore. It all began before there was an App Store and a rich selection of third-party software. Yes, perhaps you’ll gain access to parts of the operating system that are hidden on a regular iPhone, but does that really matter anymore? It comes down to why you’d want to open up your iPhone to the dangers of the online universe. Would you do it to get an application or a type of application that Apple won’t offer, or just to have the ability to finagle with the operating system?

Or maybe to just prove to yourself that you can do it, after which it may make perfect sense to restore the phone to its shipping condition and update with Apple’s latest version of OS X. Now that it’s clear that jailbreaking might make your iPhone susceptible to malware, I wouldn’t depend on someone coming up with software to protect you. You may be opening a door you were never meant to enter.

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10 Responses to “The Dangers of the Unauthorized Use of Apple Products”

  1. Jeff says:

    After two years of heavy use, I finally jailbroke my iPhone simply to get access to tethering. It’s unfortunate that Apple is partnered with AT&T and consumers have to open their phones to vulnerabiltities and scour illicit online marketplaces simply to enable a function that is already built into the device. I’ve heard dissenters claim that of the 100,000 apps available in iTunes, 90% are crap fart apps. An exploration of the jailbroken stores reveal a handful of truly useful applications with the other 99% being crap that would never have gotten past one software development review, much less to market.

    Were the iPhone available in the US on multiple carriers who were competing for the devices users by offering the most functionality at the lowest price, we might see a cooresponding drop in jailbroken and unlocked phones and a restoration of Apple’s security model. I’m not going to completely absolve Apple of responsibility for this situation because they choose their US partner knowing the history of the industry and the propensity of carriers to lock the devices down and charge for any and every service they can get.

    I don’t have much to say about the Atom or Psystar controveries other than if you choose to buy a Ford and put a BMW engine in it, you’re responisble for your own support.

  2. Mike says:

    I was an early adopter and bought a 2G iPhone when it was introduced. I paid the full, unsubsidized price of around $500.

    AT&T was horrible. Even in downtown San Francisco, I’d get dropped calls. I had absolutely no signal in my house. AT&T customer service was closed on Sunday.

    After I fulfilled my 2 year contract, I left AT&T for T-Mobile but was unable to use my iPhone, even as a camera or iPod. How is this even legal? With every other phone I owned, the carrier gave me the unlock codes once my contract was up.

    So now I had two options:

    1. Throw the useless phone in a drawer or sell it and lose out on all the applications I had bought for it.
    2. Jailbreak and unlock it.

    What if Apple tried this scheme with their computers and tied them exclusively to mobileme?

    • Jeff says:


      I have an old 2G iPhone, and while I’m tolerant of AT&T, I gave it to my spouse who wanted to use it on T-Mobile. I paid $500 for the phone well over two years ago, and in order for it to be used I have to play the jailbreak and unlock game. The latest unlock claims to be permanent on 2G phones, so we’ll see if it holds when the next iPhone OS update comes out.

      The contacts that I have at T-Mobile say that while they aren’t the official carrier, they will help you get your unlocked iPhone set up with the correct data plan. I’m not going to point fingers at Apple for this, but there should be some sort of automatic unlock once your contract term has expired.

  3. Andrew says:

    I need tethering, which is one reason why I don’t own an iPhone.

  4. The Digital Alchemist says:

    Tethering, a much better internet experience, easily accessed toggles, even something as basic as themes means I will always jailbreak every single iPhone I will ever own. I accept the risk and will also continue to reap the huge rewards!

  5. dfs says:

    All the people out there indignant because 10.6.2 doesn’t support the Atom and outraged that Apple discourages iPhone breaking, both amuse and amuse me. It never occurs to them that Apple discourages unauthorized use of its products for the same reason that Smith and Wesson puts safeties on their pistols — to keep idiots from shooting themselves in the foot.

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