Jailbreaking Your Smartphone: A Dangerous Proposition
Jailbreaking a mobile device isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Here’s what you should keep in mind.
Jailbreaking your devices is a tempting prospect. For one thing, it sounds cool saying, “Hey, check it out — I jailbroke my iPhone.” And, yeah, it gives you more control over your device. It also means you can give your phone or tablet any look you want, you can install exotic third-party apps, and you can switch to another carrier even if you still owe on the device.
There are some pretty big downsides though — not least of which is your own security.
So to jailbreak or not to jailbreak?
We don’t want to give away everything up front, but spoiler alert: No, you should not jailbreak your mobile device or smartphone. Below we’ll cover the many reasons you should never jailbreak a device, but suffice it to say bad things can and probably will happen if you tinker with the insides of your cell phone or tablet. The disadvantages far outweigh any benefits you may gain.
What Can Go Wrong When You Jailbreak Your Device?
Jailbreaking a device can cause so many problems it will make your head spin. Let’s go over just a few of the downsides.
Just jailbreaking the device in the first place can be big trouble. You can’t trust the tools advertised to jailbreak your cellphone or tablet. No one in any official position has taken the time to verify whether they’re effective or even that they are genuine as opposed to malware. You could wind up bricking your device entirely while trying to jailbreak it.
FYI: “Bricking” refers to rendering your cell phone or tablet inoperable so its only useful function would be to serve as a brick.
No More Built-In Security Features
Why do we buy iPhones and Androids instead of stripped-down black market cellphones we find in back alleys? Because we know the devices are put together well. Apple and Android have reputations for reliability and functionality, especially when it comes to security. iOS and Android operating systems come with tons of features that whole teams of highly paid engineers have spent years developing so you can be safe when you’re texting or looking up movie showtimes. When you jailbreak your device, you undo all those amazing security features, leaving you vulnerable to malware, hacking, and identity theft.
Can you install your own security software? Maybe. If you’re a software engineer from MIT and know exactly what you need and how it will impact the operating system. Otherwise, you’ll almost certainly botch the job. Why would you want to do all that anyway? Why go to the trouble to take the security apart and then rebuild it unless you have time and money to burn and don’t mind exposing your personal data to the world when you get it wrong?
Terminology: Jailbreaking has become the generic term for bypassing a cellphone or tablet’s locks and accessing the operating system directly. In the strictest sense, however, it applies only to Apple devices. The comparable term for Android devices is “rooting.”
Don’t expect to go crying to Apple or Samsung or whatever company manufactured your device once you’ve fouled it all up. If you’ve disabled the company’s security measures, you can’t hold it responsible for what happens next. In simple terms, your warranty is null and void once you perform a jailbreak.
Malware and Worse
Once you’ve performed a jailbreak, you’ll be anxious to install all sorts of third-party apps you couldn’t get through approved channels like the App Store and Google Play. Unfortunately, you give up the rigorous screening process apps have to go through to get listed on those approved channels. You now have no idea which apps are genuine and which are just cleverly disguised adware or some other type of malware. Since you’ve already given up all those nice built-in security features, you have no way to stop malware once you’ve downloaded it.
Worst of all, you’ve opened the root of your operating system so malware can go everywhere. Everywhere. Malware may be the least of your problems; you could just have given up control of your device to some stranger.
No More Updates
This may be obvious, but once you jailbreak your phone or tablet, you’ll give up access to any future operating system updates. Every time Apple improves its security or Android responds to some new digital threat, you’ll be left out.
In most cases, you also won’t be eligible for automatic updates from any of your apps since you’ve disabled all those automatic functions. That includes security apps. Even if you have an antivirus like TotalAV, it won’t stay current with the latest threats and your fantastic NordVPN software won’t be much use without the latest patches. As for all that third-party software, you can’t be sure updates aren’t malware.
Even if you somehow manage to avoid picking up some nasty virus, your device will never work properly once you’ve started tinkering with it. An iPhone or an Android is a finely tuned machine, like a fancy watch or Italian sports car. Change any part of it, and you’ll disrupt its proper functioning.
Shorter Battery Life
Did we mention that you’ll lose significant battery life when you jailbreak your device? We won’t bore you with all the technical details, but it has something to do with that whole finely tuned machine thing we talked about before.
The Dangers of Piracy
Jailbreaking your devices isn’t illegal — at least in the U.S., the U.K., and the E.U. — but what you do with the device once you’ve jailbroken it often is. Many people jailbreak their devices in order to install pirated software or avoid paying for data from their cell phone provider. Get caught doing these things, and you could face serious legal repercussions.
Warning: According to the Digital Millennium Act of 1998, the minimum penalty for downloading a single copyrighted file illegally is $750.1
The Bottom Line
Jailbreaking your iPhone undoes the device’s built-in security, and that’s never a good idea. If anything, you want to add to your phone or tablet’s security — with a great VPN, for instance, or strong antivirus software. You don’t want to get rid of what’s already there.
Perform a jailbreak and, at a minimum, your device will never work at peak efficiency again. Worse, you could expose yourself to malicious malware, which could render your device inoperable. Worst-case scenario, a hacker could gain access to your device and completely wreck your life. A wrecked phone is one thing; a wrecked life is something else.
We’re all about choice and having options, but security always comes first. No matter what options you get with a jailbroken phone, they aren’t worth giving up your digital and personal safety. Don’t do it.
U.S. Copyright Office Summary. (1998). THE DIGITAL MILLENNIUM COPYRIGHT ACT OF 1998.