Jailbreaking iPhones is officially dead, according to the pioneers who first helped make iOS jailbreaking a craze in the first place.
Earlier this year, Motherboard talked to several of those pioneers, including Nicholas Allegra, Michael Wang, and Cydia creator Jay Freeman. Allegra, specifically, didn’t mince words. “I feel like jailbreak’s basically dead at this point,” he told the publication. If anyone could revitalize the nascent underground movement, Allegra contends, it would have been Luca Todesco — someone who announced his departure from the jailbreaking community in March.
Jailbreakers once pushed the iPhone to its absolute limits in the device’s nascent years. The first iterations of the Apple flagship had no App Store, or even any sort of third-party apps at all. The first iPhone, revolutionary as it was, was pretty feature-limited. The first version of iOS didn’t even have a simple game like Snake installed.
Those limitations are what drove early iPhone hackers to break into Apple’s “walled garden.” Some prominent groups, like the non-Apple affiliated iPhone Dev Team, began poking around in iOS’ code, searching for vulnerabilities that they could use to gain greater control over the device. And while there were certainly many malicious attackers doing the same, most jailbreakers did it purely for the sport — and to expand the early iPhone’s range of capabilities.
Over the years, however, Apple has improved added a plethora of additional features to iOS, many inspired by the jailbreaking scene, and the company has significantly beefed up iOS’ security, too. Now, the jailbreak pioneers claim, there’s a lot of effort needed to jailbreak a new version of iOS, with very little payoff.
“What do you get in the end?” Jay Freeman told Motherboard. “It used to be that you got killer features that almost were the reason you owned the phone. Now you get a small minor modification.” It’s also worth noting that if an iPhone is jailbroken, it’s exposed to all kinds of security vulnerabilities as well.
Not only is jailbreaking a lot harder, but the entire scene has changed since its golden years, too. Hackers can now stand to make some serious cash if they sell a vulnerability to zero-day merchants — up to $1 million in some cases — and many of the best jailbreak experts have gone on to become security researchers with no interest in releasing future jailbreak software. iPhone security research is now a multi-million dollar industry.
All of this adds up to, in Freeman’s words, Jailbreaking’s “death spiral.” Indeed, iOS jailbreaks are getting fewer and farther between. That’s because there’s less reason to jailbreak an iPhone now, “which means there’s fewer people jailbreaking, which causes there to be less developers bothering to target it. And then you slowly die,” Freeman added.