Can Apple really seal off the iPhone from jailbreakers?

The cat-and-mouse spat continues, with Apple reinforcing its iPhone 3GS from the 24kpwn exploit.

Eric Risberg/AP/File
Customers get assistance purchasing the new Apple iPhone 3GS at an Apple store in San Francisco.

When you buy a product from Apple, they're selling you an experience. The company designs its hardware and software to intrigue, to bedazzle and, more important, to harmonize perfectly. However, like movies, circuses, and other experiences, Apple believes that it knows what you want, and doesn't take kindly to audience members trying to change the flow.

For example, Apple offers more than 85,000 iPhone apps. It's a great selection. But it handpicked each and every one. If you want to add an unsanctioned app, tough!

So a group of very clever hackers found a way to trick iPhones into accepting their own home-brewed apps. They call it "jailbreaking." This sparked a back-and-further spat between Apple and this online cadre. With every software update, Apple sealed off the holes that the jailbreakers sneaked their apps through.

Now, word comes that Apple may have locked down the iPhone permanently.

When you turn on a cellphone, before anything shows up on screen, the device runs something called a "bootrom." It's this behind-the-scene software that ensures everything is in order before fully allowing the phone to turn on. The current jailbreaking technique for iPhone 3GS phones, called 24kpwn, involved distracting the Apple bootrom and then tiptoeing in. But the newest 3GS units coming out of production have a smarter bootrom, one that reportedly makes 24kpwn obsolete.

PCWorld had a nice metaphor to explain the change:

Think of the bootrom as the prison guard who checks that all the inmates are where they should be, before letting the prisoners go about their day. Hackers used to get by the bootrom using the 24kpwn exploit that would make the guard think nothing was wrong, and everything was running normally within the iPrison.... But all that may have changed, since iPhone 3GS devices reportedly began shipping last week with an updated bootrom. Nicknamed iBoot-359.3.2, it is believed the new chip is not susceptible to the 24kpwn hack.

While some have wondered if the new bootrom is "jailbreak-proof," such claims are a tad rash. To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, what one man can code, another can crack. Jailbreakers will need to be much more clever now, but in personal electronics, never bet on the house.

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