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Jailbreaking Your iPhone: How Does it Work, and What are the Risks?

Last edited: June 2, 2020
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Jailbreaking your iPhone: an overview

If you want to jailbreak your iPhone, you have to make an effort, but you do get access to a lot of extra apps and customizations for iOS. With specific jailbreaking tools, you can do this in a relatively fast and secure way:

  1. See which jailbreak method is right for you. For recent versions of iOS, the checkra1n and unc0ver tools are suitable.
  2. Back up your iPhone.
  3. Download the unc0ver tool for your iPhone, or download the checkra1n tool for your Mac or Linux computer and connect it to your iPhone.
  4. Install the Cydia package manager to download jailbroken apps and modifications.
  5. Use a VPN to be online safely and anonymously with jailbroken iPhone.

Jailbroken iPhones can be secured with a VPN, which you can install in the same way as for ‘normal’ iPhones. ExpressVPN works perfectly in almost all cases.

 

Do you want to know exactly how a jailbreaking process works, or do you want to know more about the security risks of jailbreaking? Then read the full article below.

A jailbreak gives iPhone users more freedom to control what parts of their data are shared, and with whom. In addition, jailbreaking increases the accessibility of your device: good news for your privacy as well. On the other hand, a jailbreak eliminates security restrictions, so if you don’t be careful, there’s a chance of errors in your operating system. In this article we explain what a jailbreak is, what the risks are and why you should or should not do it.

What Exactly is Jailbreaking?

In a few words, jailbreaking is a bypass of the security of a device to increase its usability. iOS, the iPhone operating system, is a closed operating system. This means that users can make (almost) no adjustments to their personal preferences. That’s why some users decide to jailbreak their iPhone, so that they can control the operating system themselves.

The closed nature of iOS is not optimal to incubate innovation either. For example, iOS’s limited accessibility makes it more difficult for amateurs to get started with Apple devices, reducing the opportunities for talented and creative hobbyists to develop new apps or features. On jailbroken devices, developers can work to their heart’s content without the restrictions normally imposed by Apple.

In short, if you want more customization than iOS normally allows, or if you like to tinker with iOS as a hobby, jailbreaking can give you a little extra freedom.

Types of jailbreaks

If you’re going to jailbreak your iPhone, it’s useful to know that there different ways to jailbreak. These jailbreaks take advantage of weaknesses in iOS in a variety of ways. This means that some jailbreaks need a connection between your iPhone and a PC. However, other jailbreaks use exploits without the need to connect to a computer:

  • Tethered jailbreaks need a connection to a PC or laptop to run the jailbreak. In addition, each time the device is rebooted, a connection to a PC or laptop must be established. If this does not happen, it is simply not possible to reboot.
  • Untethered jailbreaks can be rebooted without any connection to a laptop or PC. The exploit that is used to break into the operating system is so strong that the user can turn their iPhone off and on while maintaining the jailbreak. However, the first time the jailbreak is executed, there must be a connection to a computer.
  • Semi-tethered jailbreaks allow users to simply restart their jailbroken iPhone. In that case the jailbreak disappears, so only the normal iOS can be used. If users want to boot in jailbreak mode, there must always be a connection to a PC or laptop.
  • Semi-untethered jailbreaks are similar to untethered, but no connection to a PC is required at all for the jailbreak. Also, users can always reboot. The catch, however, is that a non-jailbroken version of iOS is booted, after which the user has to redo the jailbreak via an app on the device. This requires some effort, as jailbreaking apps are naturally not approved by Apple. If the instructions are followed correctly however, this type of jailbreak is very user friendly.

Cydia

If you want to jailbreak your iPhone, it is advisable to install Cydia. Cydia is a package manager, which is comparable to an app store. It is by far the most commonly used app for jailbroken devices. Because almost all jailbreakers are active on Cydia, it is also the most reliable way to download apps and modifications. Below, you will find a number of examples of popular apps which you can find on Cydia:

  • Filza is a file organizer for jailbroken iPhones, which gives more options than standard apps on non-jailbroken iOS. Filza is also compatible with cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive.
  • iCleaner Pro is a cleanup application for iOS with a lot of options that are not available on standard iOS. Think about enabling and disabling startup processes that run in the background, or removing unused languages from your keyboard.
  • Activator is an app that gives full control over touch commands. The app also supports specific touch commands for other apps on Cydia. In addition, Activator allows you to set up custom controls for all kinds of actions. Think about playing music, opening certain apps or (un)locking your screen.
  • iTorrent is an app that many jailbreakers use to download torrents.

As you can see, jailbreaking can focus on expanding functionality, with apps like Filza and Activator. On the other hand, there are also apps like iTorrent or iCleaner Pro, which serve a specific purpose. These four examples are only a fraction of what is available if you use Cydia. If you are going to jailbreak, take some time to find out which apps suit your preferences.

How Can You Jailbreak Your iPhone?

There are a lot of ways to jailbreak your iPhone, but there are some popular tools that the vast majority of jailbreakers use. For recent versions of iOS, these are checkra1n and unc0ver. These tools are relatively easy to use, because it’s quite clear which steps you need to go through. Both tools also give you the option to install Cydia after the jailbreak.

It is important to realize that jailbreaking tools use weaknesses in iOS. These weaknesses first need to be discovered, so generally this means that you can’t jailbreak the very latest versions of iOS immediately after release.

At the time of writing, checkra1n only works for iPhones from 6s to iPhone X, but for all versions of iOS from 12.3 and up. Unc0ver also works with the iPhone XR, XS, XS Max, 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max,  for iOS 11 to 13.5.

Jailbreak tool Compatible iOS versions Compatible iPhone versions
Unc0ver iOS 12.3 – iOS 13.5 All iPhones with the right iOS version
Checkra1n iOS 12.3 or higher 6S – iPhone X

Unc0ver

Basically, anyone with an iPhone with iOS 12.3 or later can use unc0ver. There is no need to connect to a PC or laptop. Before you start jailbreaking, it is useful to make a backup, because there is always a chance that something might go wrong. Note: iOS versions 13.3.1 and later are not (yet) supported by the unc0ver no-computer method, so do not update to a later version if you want to jailbreak without your pc or laptop. No-computer support for later versions is still in the works.

After your backup process, download and install the unc0ver tool on your iPhone from jailbreakme.app. If the app works, the icon will appear on the home screen (left on the screenshot below) and you can open it. When you open the app, the screen on the right will appear.

unc0ver jailbreak iPhone

  1. If the installation was successful, proceed to step 8. However, the installation may fail because the Developer Enterprise Certificate for the unc0ver tool has expired. In that case, your iPhone will notify you that the installation was unsuccessful.
  2. Uninstall the unc0ver app and download it again. Immediately after downloading, go to your home screen and pause the installation by tapping the unc0ver icon.
  3. Go to Settings, and then scroll to Safari. In Safari settings, scroll down and erase your history and website data.
  4. Go back to your home screen and tap the unc0ver app. It now shows loading status. As soon as the app jumps from loading to installing, set your iPhone to airplane mode.
  5. The installation of unc0ver is complete. Then turn off your airplane mode again.
  6. Go back to Settings and then to General. Scroll to Profiles & Device Management. Then click the button under Enterprise App and click Trust twice.
  7. Go back to Settings -> Safari and delete your history and website data again. Then reset your iPhone to Airplane mode.
  8. Open unc0ver. Click on Jailbreak and then OK. Unc0ver now takes a snapshot of your iOS so you can reverse the jailbreak at a later time.
  9. Your iPhone will restart. Go back to unc0ver and click Jailbreak again. There will be a message with “jailbreak complete”; click OK. Your iPhone is now jailbroken.

Checkra1n

Checkra1n is a semi-tethered jailbreak that requires connection to a laptop or PC. The checkra1n app is compatible with macOS or Linux; there is no support for Windows. For people who do not have access to a macOS or Linux operating system we recommend the unc0ver jailbreak. Again, make a backup of your files. Once you have done that, you should follow these steps for checkra1n:

  1. Download and install the checkra1n tool on your PC or laptop from checkra.in and open it.
  2. Connect your iPhone to your PC or laptop. If everything works, you’ll see the window below.
    Checkra1n jailbreak screenshot
  3. Optional: checkra1n may indicate that it does not support your operating system, even though it should. In that case your iPhone has to be connected in Recovery Mode. Checkra1n gives the exact instructions for this in the window.
  4. If an Apple logo appears the iPhone is in Recovery Mode and checkra1n gives instructions to put your iPhone in DFU mode. Follow the instructions on your screen and wait. If it’s ok, you’ll see the message below on your computer.
    Checkra1n jailbreak screenshot done
  5. Checkra1n now starts up the iPhone in jailbroken mode. The jailbreak is complete!

The Risks of an iPhone Jailbreak

Since Apple did not design iPhones to jailbreak, there’s always a chance something will go wrong. Especially since there are so many different manuals available online, it’s unlikely you’ll know exactly what every modification to your device involves. So, always keep an eye out for potential problems, and use only well-known jailbreak tools.

Once you’ve completed a jailbreak, your iPhone’s warranty is no longer valid. This means that you are completely responsible if something goes wrong. Apple won’t provide support anymore if your iPhone is faulty, even if the cause of your problem has nothing to do with jailbreaking.

Is jailbreaking illegal?

Jailbreaking isn’t illegal in itself, as long as you own your device. There is no law in the United States or the UK that prevents jailbreaking. However, there are certain illegal activities that are possible through jailbreaking. For example, downloading paid apps for free is illegal. Jailbroken devices also make it much easier to access apps with illegal purposes. However, as long as you don’t pursue malicious activities, jailbreaking is legal.

Security risks of an iPhone jailbreak

Another risk of jailbreaking is caused by the removal of so-called ‘sandboxes’. On non-jailbroken devices, apps run in a closed environment, the sandbox. This ensures that apps cannot affect the rest of the system. With jailbroken devices, that sandbox is removed, which means that it is theoretically possible for apps to make changes to your system.Privacy settings iOS iPhone

In practice, this does not occur with legitimate apps, because their code is not written to interact with the system. However, it is always very important to research apps that you want to install from Cydia. Rule of thumb: don’t install anything you don’t know. In reviews and on online forums you can find a lot of information to determine whether an app or tweak can be trusted.

In addition, never install pirated versions of apps from Cydia. Developers of apps for Cydia regularly include a mechanic that ‘punishes’ users if they install non-legitimate versions of apps. For example, a Reddit user said that his background image permanently changed into a cartoon pirate after he installed a bootlegged version of a tweak.

Malware

In the past, malware, including worms, has been discovered on jailbroken devices. In almost all cases, however, this was not due to the jailbreak itself, but to the subsequent actions of users. It is certain, however, that the chance of malware being discovered after a jailbreak increases, simply because your security is less tight. On the other hand, it is mostly up to you whether you download an app that turns out to contain malicious software. Again, if you are not sure that an app does not cause problems, do not download it.

Privacy

In principle, the same rule applies to privacy risks. Do not use anything about which you don’t know enough. On the other hand, certain apps from Cydia can also enhance your privacy. For example, PrivaCy is an app that allows users to check which usage statistics are uploaded to external servers. This is much more user-friendly than having to set this up for each individual app.VPN on mobile

Just like on regular iPhones, you can use a VPN on jailbroken iPhones to remain anonymous on the Internet. You can just set up a VPN on your iPhone the way you normally would. This ensures that your data is encrypted and your IP address is unrecognizable. Even on a jailbroken iPhone, you’re online anonymously, without a care in the world.

Securing Your Jailbroken iPhone

Let it be clear that not jailbreaking is always safer than jailbreaking. Since it is literally about breaking through system security, jailbreaking only improves the safety of your device in some specific cases. Although, if you’re a little tech-savvy, there are a few measures you can take to make your jailbroken iPhone safer.

For example, turning off remote access is always a good idea. It’s also sensible to re-enable code-signing in iOS after a jailbreak. In addition, it is possible to enable sandboxing up to the scale of regular iOS. These are actions that require some work and technical knowledge. If you are going to jailbreak with limited technical expertise, extreme caution is the best advice to keep your iPhone secure.

Reversing Your iPhone Jailbreak

It is possible to undo your jailbreak, for both checkra1n and unc0ver. Basically, you could go back to the pre-jailbreak status of your iPhone by simply restarting it. Rebooting semi-tethered and semi-untethered jailbroken i{hones reverses the whole process.

However, if you want to make sure you don’t have any trace of a jailbreak on your iPhone, you can restore your iPhone from a PC or laptop running iTunes. Use the method below to completely undo your jailbreak process:

  1. Connect the jailbroken iPhone to your computer and open iTunes.
  2. Select your iPhone from the left column of iTunes.
  3. Under the Summary tab you will see a ‘Restore’ button. Click on it to start.
  4. A message will appear asking you if you want to make a backup. Click yes. The recovery will start.
  5. Your iPhone restarts automatically. You will be asked if you want to restore from a backup. If you want to restore your apps and files from before the jailbreak, click yes.
  6. When the backup and restore are complete, your iPhone is back to its old state.

Conclusion

Clearly, jailbreaking your iPhone gives you a lot of new features you wouldn’t normally have with iOS. On the other hand, it eliminates security measures that Apple has included for a reason. Jailbroken iPhones increase the responsibility of users many times over. But if you manage that responsibility well, jailbreaking can provide an enhanced experience on your iPhone.

 

Disclaimer: Please be aware that the text above only attempts to provide information about the risks and opportunities of jailbreaking. It is always your responsibility to read and comply with the latest laws and regulations regarding jailbreaking.

Jailbreaking your iPhone - Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have problems that need a quick solution? Check below for frequently asked questions about jailbreaking your iPhone.

Jailbreaking is the removal of iOS security limitations, the iPhone’s operating system. Apple uses these limitations to protect the company’s intellectual property, and to ensure that dangerous apps cannot be downloaded. On the other hand, Apple also restricts the adjustment of functionality by users. That’s why people who want to customize their iPhone often resort to jailbreaking. In addition, amateur developers can more easily develop apps and features on jailbroken iPhones.

If you’re dissatisfied with the standard features of iOS, and you don’t mind voiding your warranty, you can run a jailbreak. The Cydia package manager lets you make lots of new changes to your operating system. Another reason to jailbreak is that you can use hundreds of new apps that aren’t Apple-approved. In that case, being extra careful is not a luxury, as Apple often has good reason not to approve them. Also, a jailbreak enables amateur developers to access iOS’s code.

Jailbreaking isn’t illegal. There is no law in the United States or the UK that prevents jailbreaking. However, there are certain illegal activities that are possible through jailbreaking. For example, pirating apps is illegal. Jailbroken devices also make it much easier to access apps with illegal purposes.

Apple’s warranty is voided if you jailbreak your iPhone. In that case, Apple is under no obligation to support you, and you’ll be responsible for handling any problems yourself. In addition, users of jailbroken iPhones have so much freedom in iOS that it’s easier than normal to accidentally download malware. Apps also have fewer restrictions due to the removal of security limitations. In practice, this will not lead to many major problems, but be aware that a jailbroken iPhone no longer works the way Apple intended.

The unc0ver tool allows you to jailbreak all iPhones up to iOS 13.5, including the iPhone 11 and the iPhone SE. At this point, this is only possible with the semi-tethered version of unc0ver.

Tech journalist
Erik was educated in the humanities, after which he started to investigate technological and online culture. Specifically, he is interested in privacy and net neutrality. Erik has worked as an editor, copywriter and translator for several platforms, with technology as a recurring theme.

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