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One step closer to an iPhone 1.1.1/iPod touch jailbreak, but still so far away

One step closer to an iPhone 1.1.1/iPod touch jailbreak, but still so far away

So far the progress toward a process for "jailbreaking" the iPhone 1.1.1 firmware and iPod Touch 1.1.x firmware has been frustratingly slow. As previously reported, Apple changed the encryption methodology for the iPhone with the 1.1.1 firmware/software update, meaning that old processes for jailbreaking -- putting the iPhone into a mode where files can be written to and from the phone ? are now defunct. Jailbreaking is necessary for the installation of third-party native applications on the iPhone.

The last 24 hours, however, have seen a promising development. Taking a cue from the PSP (Sony PlayStation Portable) cracking efforts, iPhone hackers have discovered a TIFF buffer overflow exploit that will cause MobileSafari on the iPhone software/firmware 1.1.1 or iPod touch software 1.1.x to crash. This means that arbitrary code can be written to the device -- a potential first step in jailbreaking the device.

While this is cause for hope, it's certainly not a definite indication that a succesful jailbreak will be released anytime soon. The old jailbreak method was accomplished by pulling a password from one of the iPhone's disk image files -- a method that will be difficult with a changed scheme using 128-bit encryption. This buffer flow methodology -- which is completely different -- will not be useful unless someone actually figures out how to invoke a jailbreak using it -- a tough proposition according to those who were instrumental in the initial iPhoen jailbreak/native app installation routines. "This will be more difficult," said Lucas Newman, creator of the first native iPhone game "Lights Off!"

Maksim Rashiv of Nullriver Software, who propelled the third-party native iPhone application market into mainstream existence with, echoed this sentiment. "It's irrelevant until someone actually makes a working jailbreak using it," he said.

There's another problem with the buffer overflow route: it's a security flaw. Software mechanisms that made use of a buffer overflow to unlock the iPhone for use on carriers other than AT&T were eradicated by Apple's iPhone software/firmware 1.1.1 update, in some cases causing disablement of phone functionality. The justification, it could be argued, was the company's desire to patch a vulnerability.

Any jailbreak mechanism that makes use of a buffer overflow exploit could be subject to similar, swift destruction by Apple in the name of enhanced security, and potentially (though unlikely) be subject to similar ill effects on functionality.