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Communications Hardware Hacking Wireless Networking Apple Build

Upcoming Firmware Will Brick Unlocked iPhones 605

iCry writes "It was rumored last week, and Apple has now confirmed it: 'Apple said today that a firmware update to the iPhone due to be released later this week "will likely result" in SIM-unlocked iPhones turning into very expensive bricks... So what are users of SIM-unlocked iPhones to do? Not run the latest software update, that's for sure. Users can instead pray to the hacking deities — the famed iPhone Dev Team that released the free software unlock, and iPhoneSIMfree, which released a commercial software unlock — to write applications that will undo the unlocks, as it were, if those users want to run the latest iPhone software.'"
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Upcoming Firmware Will Brick Unlocked iPhones

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  • Is that even legal? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mrjb ( 547783 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:08AM (#20741225)
    Is that even legal?
    • by MistaE ( 776169 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:12AM (#20741261) Homepage
      If you look at the comments that Phil Schiller [] made yesterday, Apple's taking the position that they don't "mean" to brick it, but it just "might happen" anyways, which of course is total bullshit. At least they're not shooting themselves in the foot immediately by saying that they're deliberately trying to brick 'em.

      Now my question is, what exactly do they need to update that would cause such brickage.
      • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:17AM (#20741311)
        I would expect that people who were smart enough to pay for the phone with a credit card would say "Hey, my phone is busted. Fix it or I'm returning it. If you don't accept the return, I'm doing a chargeback." Visa/mastercard/discover/amex provide a fairly decent product warranty program for items purchased with one of their cards.
      • by @madeus ( 24818 ) <> on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:35AM (#20741543)

        Apple's taking the position that they don't "mean" to brick it, but it just "might happen" anyways, which of course is total bullshit.
        To any developer I would think it would be immediately obvious what you are saying is not true (it's in no way 'total bullshit' that rendering the device unable to boot "might happen" accidentally). Hell, even to any use of a Linux or BSD distribution that uses binary packages that should be immediately obvious it's a likely scenario that you could screw the device by blindly applying a delta to a binary that is different from the intended target binary.

        Of course it might "brick" a hacked iPod without them meaning to (note, Phil Schiller is quoted as specially referring to 'unlocked or hacked' iPhones). Even if they are just making a minor update to a simple app, they might be using a newer version of an existing library in the new version, so that library update gets rolled into the delta too. That might also mean other more core things (which have been recompiled to also use that new library) get included and a hack that hooks into them might break, which would screw up the device, rendering it unusable.

        This is unlikely to affect users who have only unlocked their phone and is much more likely to affect at users who have also modded their phones in other ways (particularly if they have any software that activates on startup - and particularly software that might screw up if it can't start properly).

        I don't have an iPhone, but I'm assuming even if it was "bricked" to the point of not being able to start up normally it would *still* be possible to reset the firmware on it (as it is with the iPods), so it wouldn't *really* be bricked - hence my use of inverted commas.

      • In a civil lawsuit against Apple, there would be discovery under which they would be compelled to reveal their internal communications related to the matter. The truth will come out.

        It's definitely not legal as they are challenging a consumer's right to do with his personally owned property what he wishes.
        • by slashname3 ( 739398 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:57AM (#20741757)
          "not legal as they are challenging a consumer's right to do with his personally owned property what he wishes."

          Apple is not going to go out and force those users to install the update. Those users that have voided their warranties and unlocked their phones were given a warning. Apple was actually being nice instead of just putting out the update and then having a huge splash in the news when all those unlocked iPhones suddenly turned into bricks.

          Once someone unlocked the phone Apple's no longer has an responsibility to make future updates work with that hack. The end user is responsible. The end user can do whatever they want with the product. Just don't go back to the company that sold it to you and complain if you can not get it to work outside of the network they told you it was designed for.

      • by lancejjj ( 924211 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:16AM (#20742781) Homepage

        Apple's taking the position that they don't "mean" to brick it, but it just "might happen" anyways, which of course is total bullshit.
        As someone who has worked in the world of firmware of the mobile telephone industry, I can tell you that users can very well "brick" their device once they start messing with low level code.

        All of our code went through an amazing amount of quality control - from design to deployment - to ensure that device never becomes a brick. However, in one instance, I recall another manufacturer with exactly that problem - the software was flawed enough such that the device could brick itself.

        There was a work-around: ship the unit back to a service center, have a tech open up the device, and snap on a specialty programmer to reload the corrected low level code. The problem was that the manufacturer was not prepared for such an event, and so they didn't have the techs or equipment to perform this service fast enough for consumers. The cost went into several millions.

        Of course, that's the case of a device with a flaw delivered from the manufacturer. It's quite different when the customer starts messing around with the guts of low-level firmware. At that point, it is only fair to have the customer pay for the physical disassembly and reprogramming, shipping, and associated administrative costs.

        So "might" it happen? Yes, as it has happened, both by the manufacturer (in error), and countless times by individuals who screw around and inadvertently change APIs or inject buggy code that could be invoked by a simple software update. This isn't just an Apple thing - it happens industry wide.

        I'm not saying that iPhone hackers are wrong. I'm just saying that they have to be very careful, and be prepared to "eat the cost" of any changes that brick the device. Changing low-level code is NEVER something to do without a lot of careful checking.

        Hell, I know of a few dozen motherboard manufacturers that say that you should never upgrade your BIOS with even official updates unless you are very very sure that you need the update. I'm sure THEY wouldn't be too keen on getting back a few 10,000 motherboards with crapped out, user-customized BIOS firmware - why should Apple?

      • Apple's taking the position that they don't "mean" to brick it, but it just "might happen" anyways, which of course is total bullshit.

        Except if you read the TUAW guide to re-locking [] that some people who tried to re-lock the phone found that it didn't work anymore. Some have gotten it to work again by re-unlocking, but eitherway the process seems to munge the IMEI.

        Maybe, just maybe, and I know many people will have to take of the tinfoil hats to believe this, Apple actually has test units that they try out all these published hacks on. And maybe they discovered that if you used one of the SIM unlock methods it caused an issue that a

    • by Luke Dawson ( 956412 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:14AM (#20741287)
      What, releasing a firmware update? Or do you mean because it renders unlocked phones useless? I highly doubt it. I am sure the fine-print means you would forfeit your right to warranty and fitness for purpose if you go modifying your phone at such a basic level, so no, I am doubtful you could argue this is illegal. So long as you have the right not to accept the update, I guess. But even if the update were forced upon it, I'm sure you'd still have a hard time convincing a judge that it was an illegal act on Apple's part.
    • you most likely break your warranty, so yeah, the update turning the phone into a brick is probably legal, and you were warned about it at various stages of the purchase, unpacking and using the crack. whether that is good PR ... well, that remains to be seen. real apple fanbois won't be cracking their phones, and apple won't probably care about the semi-fanbois that do crack them. also, I am sure most of the people who bought an iphone realize there is this exclusive contract with the relevant carrier, an
    • by kannibal_klown ( 531544 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:17AM (#20741319)
      Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it optional to accept a firmware update through iTunes? I thought it was just something that comes up in iTunes much like an iPod firmware update. If that's the case, any user with an unlocked iPhone could/should choose to ignore it, thus it is not mandatory.

      If they made it a background/transparent upgrade over-the-air without the user's knowledge then I could see it being a legal issue since it would unknowingly stop their service and potentially leave them stranded in an emergency. An iTunes update just makes it an annoyance, so long as they prompt you saying "Warning: if you unlocked your iPhone this will disable it."

      Anybody that unlocked their iPhone must have known there'd be fallout, and that the future would probably turn into a game of cat-and-mouse. They unlock the phone, Apple brick the phone, they unbrick it, etc.

      I personally think all phones should be sold unlocked, but it's rare to find them. The fact that Apple is reactively fighting back is a little new, but not unseen.
      • If you don't keep your phone updated, then you run a much greater security risk. Kinda like running Windows XP with no security patches applied. Really want to run that risk???

        IMHO, the only way Apple could release a firmware update that would brick a hack iPhone is if they INTENTIONALLY brick it on detection of the hack. This "oh gee, it might happen" attitude is BULLSHIT. You KNOW Apple is testing the hacks internally to see how they work, and KNOW that they have been testing updates against hacked phones
    • by fymidos ( 512362 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:18AM (#20741333) Journal
      IANAL, but i'm pretty sure that *not byuing* the iPhone untill apple stops doing stuff like that, is perfectly legal...
      • by putzin ( 99318 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:27AM (#20741457) Homepage
        No, Microsoft had the option to not purchase made illegal and immoral quite a while ago. Apple is just riding the coat tails. In summer 2008, I believe it also becomes illegal not to use AT&T for all services including face to face visits with friends and family. In 2009, not only will it be illegal to smoke, but also to not use Apple and AT&T HW, SW, and services for everything you do (I hear the iToilet touch flush will be amazing). All this for the low cost of 40% of your yearly salary or $30K, whichever is greater.
    • by jonnyj ( 1011131 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @09:01AM (#20741795)

      IANAL but in the UK this would almost certainly breach the Computer Misuse Act. Section 3 says that "A person is guilty of an offence if (a) he does any act which causes the unauthorized modification of the contents of any computer". All that's needed is a simple letter to Apple and O2 telling them that you withdraw any previously granted permission for them to modify your firmware in any way. In so doing, you might put yourself in breach of your contract with O2 but I doubt if the right to push sofware onto your handset would be regarded as a fundamental contract term.

  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by zantolak ( 701554 ) <> on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:08AM (#20741227)
    At least it's a stylish brick!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      a stylish brick!
      That's what people say about Steve Jobs too.... oh, hang on, "brick". I thought you said.... ah, nevermind.

      (Side note: captcha is "contempt". Hmm.)
  • Are you telling me it's impossible to reinstall/reset the software on an iPhone?

    Anyway what are they to do: sell their iPhones and buy iPod Touch, this is what they wanted right?
  • Statutory rights? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JonyEpsilon ( 662675 )
    Don't people have statutory rights with regards to purchased goods in the US? I'm pretty sure if they tried such a trick in the UK they'll get a kicking in court.
    • by faloi ( 738831 )
      I suppose we'll find out. I'm assuming that the firmware update will get to phones in the UK as well.
    • by Bartab ( 233395 )
      Statutory rights to use, abuse, tear, twist, or mutilate any object they own.

      Doing so simply breaks the warranty.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by DustyShadow ( 691635 )
      Unfortunately, statutes are used to take away our rights in the U.S.
  • by leuk_he ( 194174 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:11AM (#20741255) Homepage Journal
    in SIM-unlocked iPhones turning into very expensive bricks... So what are users of SIM-unlocked iPhones to do?

    Bricks have uses too. You can build houses from them. Very expensive houses. But bricks are bricks after all.
  • I think... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LLKrisJ ( 1021777 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:12AM (#20741259) Journal
    ... This is most likely to be just lowly scare mongering. Apple is becoming evil awfully quick.
    • Re:I think... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:36AM (#20743119)
      "Becoming" evil? Apple is not some shrine of ethics or panacea of consumer/developer friendliness. This is a company that has tried suing bloggers for talking about upcoming Apple products. One of the first companies to employ TPM-style chips on a widespread basis. The company that takes 50 times more than they give -- GUI, OOP, BSD, KHTML, etc. The company that is locking down iPods so that I won't be able to use them with my computer anymore (because, GASP, I don't run an OS that they support with iTunes!).

      If you are surprised by Apple's behavior, you should take a look at some news archives and see what Apple has done in the past. And if you think that they won't try to shut off unlocked iPhones, you REALLY need to review the news archives. In the Apple world, "lock-in" takes on an entirely new meaning.

  • Going one better (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Andrew Kember ( 1056488 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:13AM (#20741269) Homepage
    I wouldn't be surprised if the iPhone Dev Team released a work-around rather than a roll-back. I.e. Have your unlocked iPhone cake and eat it (upgraded s/w) too. How? That's up to the clever people...
  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:14AM (#20741283) Homepage Journal
    It seems to imply that running any 3rd party software on the phone voids your warranty.

    I wonder how long Apple will be able to play hardball before they are in court on the wrong end of a class action suit?
  • by EvilSpudBoy ( 1159091 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:14AM (#20741291)

    There are instructions on how to relock an iPhone here []

    It seems a bit involved

  • by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:15AM (#20741295)
    To brick or not to brick...
  • Thats what you get for giving Mac any of your hard earned money,a suckerpunch.Remember although you bought it ,it belongs to Steeev Jobs.
    If he says no,you better listen.After all he is richer,smarter and better than you.Think Different.

  • Legal responsibility (Score:2, Interesting)

    by da_matta ( 854422 )
    This could create an interesting legal situation in countries where modding the equipment is a protected consumer right. On the other hand, if you hack the iPhone you pretty much void the warranty and can't expect the official updates to work. But with "FUDdish" threats like this Apple makes it sound like their intentionally breaking the phones. And I wonder how Apple plans to prevent returning the bricked phones for warranty. If they can detect that afterwards, they probably could have detected it as part
  • If something you do that intentionally destroys private property, that is absolutely something that can be brought to court.

    I think it is time to stop thinking of Apple as anything less than an even more evil version of Microsoft with slightly less money.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Bartab ( 233395 )
      You're nuts. The iPhone as purchased continues to work. If you do something to unlock it and it bricks, well you shouldn't have violated the warranty by unlocking it.

      You should feel happy that Apple is warning people that if they unlocked the phone they shouldn't install the update. They didn't have to do that.

      You can be sure that any iPhone returned for warranty will be checked for unlocking and returned unfixed if found. As has been said many times, you can sue anybody for anything in the US. In this case
  • Perhaps they borrowed a bit of jargon from microsoft along the lines of "You don't own what you just paid 300 bucks for, you just licensed it, its ours to with however we please, you just get to use it in the meantime. Share and Enjoy."
  • by dominux ( 731134 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:19AM (#20741353) Homepage
    if you want a Linux based, good looking, feature full and open phone then have a look at Open Moko [] it is probably going to be capable of multitouch (the touchscreen hardware can do it but the software does not take advantage yet) it will come without a contract so I will be getting an O2 sim only contract when they come out next month. OpenMoko in October, OLPC in November, wow, I am going to be skint by Christmas.
  • by bstarrfield ( 761726 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:21AM (#20741365)

    I'm an Apple fanboy - I've used Macs since 1984, worked for Apple for a couple of years, and have promoted Apple equipment and software where I've been employed. But at this moment, I'm disgusted. There is no need to disable the unlocked iPhone's, and Jobs and crew should damn well accept that some of us actually refuse to use AT&T on principal. Think Different my a**.

    I'm not going to subscribe to AT&T. AT&T, the firm that's trying to eliminate net neutrality. AT&T, the reconstituted (near) monopoly. AT&T the firm that opened their switch boxes to the NSA without hesitation and is now attempting to manipulate legislation to provide immunity from prosecution in that matter.

    On a practical note, Does Mr. Jobs even recognize how expensive his bed partner is overseas? And this matter practically to myself and my family. Apple, as normal, has forgotten that Israel exists. Apple has, as far as I know, has never sold its products directly in Israel. If I want to send an iPhone to my family in Israel, should I have to sign up for AT&T and pay for their pathetic World Traveler plan? The world does exist outside the US and a few European markets.

    Incidentally - my evil unlocked iPhone works perfectly on T-Mobile - without Visual Voice Mail, but gods, I'll live. So what, precisely, is the point of altering the modem firmware, except to break unlocking? Point out examples of the baseband firmware wreaking havoc on the network; explain how this change benefits users.

    The iPhone is the first tablet computer I've seen that inspires the imagination. I want to write programs for it, I want to explore a new user interface. If it runs OS X, treat it like an OS X box and let us get on with writing the programs that will sell the bloody thing. Don't freeze us out while you write such amazing accomplishments as the "Wireless i-Tunes Store" while we're trying to write vertical apps for the medical profession, law, and other fields.

    Job's, former AT&T hacker, has decided to repeat the folly of the early closed Mac, the early closed NeXT, and even at times the Newton. Apple made a terrible choice in its partner, and seems incapable of realizing the potential of the iPhone.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cyberworm ( 710231 )
      If you don't like AT&T don't get an iPhone. Nobody is forcing you to buy one and you're definately not entitled to own one just because it exists.
      • Yes and no (Score:3, Insightful)

        by aepervius ( 535155 )
        He is not entitled to own one, but ONCE he owns one, he is entitled to keep it in the state it is, or even burn it on a bonfire if he wishes. OTOH Apple cannot force an update on the iPhone on him, because Apple did not license the iPhone or Contract the iPhone usage to him, Apple sold it.
      • If you don't like AT&T don't get an iPhone. Nobody is forcing you to buy one and you're definately not entitled to own one just because it exists.

        No one is forcing you to buy any phone from any carrier. If Apple wants me to sign up with AT&T, they should make me sign a contract to that effect. This cat and mouse game is stupid. EVERY GSM phone has been unlocked. The iPhone is no exception.

        Personally, I'm not willing to put up with Apple's bullshit. I won't buy their iPods (which only sync with iTune

  • And so it goes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bytesex ( 112972 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:27AM (#20741455) Homepage
    Apple overreaches with a very expensive experiment, and proceeds to knock itself out of a (or even THE) market. It's Newton-time all over again; the karma of Steve-o.
  • Undo the hack (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dark_Nova ( 27836 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:27AM (#20741459)
    While the jury's out on whether the bricking is intentional or not, it's clear that something in the update process is incompatible with the changes made by unlocking.

    The solution is to reverse the changes before updating. There is a preliminary guide to doing this at: []

    Of course, this means that your phone is no longer unlocked.

    The other option is to just not upgrade.
  • by Toreo asesino ( 951231 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:29AM (#20741481) Journal
    Anyone who owns an iPod will know the firmware gets updated fairly regularly will fixes and on occasion new features too. To hack your own firmware onto an Apple device is tight-rope-walking at best.

    For goodness sake people, you don't buy Apple products because they're cheap or because you want to save money; nay fellow brethren, you buy because Apple products are the coolest, the best user-tested, and yea, because you are blessed enough to afford luxury. It comes at a price.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta ( 162192 )
      For goodness sake people, you don't buy Apple products because they're cheap or because you want to save money; nay fellow brethren, you buy because Apple products are the coolest, the best user-tested, and yea, because you are blessed enough to afford luxury. It comes at a price.

      That price? Your freedom.
  • by mlwmohawk ( 801821 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:29AM (#20741491)
    If you own something, its yours. You paid for it, you paid taxes on your purchase, you completed the transaction.

    If a company intentionally destroys your property and thus denies you the rightful use of your property, how is that *ANY* different than a DDOS?

    If Apple does this, it should be sued into the ground. I'm not talking just statutory damages, I'm talking "punitive" damages intended to reduce the likelihood they do this crap again. If every iPhone use who gets bricked sues for $1m, it could be interesting.

    I am sick of U.S. companies treating customers like shit. Damn it! Make a good product, sell a million of them, and support your customers. What the hell is so difficult about that formula? It is the basis of real capitalism, not this fascist lock you in and bend you over crap companies are doing today.
  • by Slashcrap ( 869349 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:31AM (#20741497)
    Apparently the phone won't be disabled immediately. It will first make a call to the nearest AT&T NSA approved logging center, where the phone number will be recorded and your address details passed on to Apple.

    Then the phone will disable itself.

    Shortly after, you will meet with a mysterious accident.

    Apple users that we interviewed were of the opinion that while this was a good first step, it didn't really go quite far enough. "Ideally I'd like to see the offender's family murdered in the streets as well. It's really the only way to teach the proper respect for Apple's products and business strategy.", said one person who was soon copied by all the others in an attempt to show their individuality.

    An Apple spokesman who we contacted offered the following statement, "LOL, Windows, LOL!".
  • Thank gods... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Upaut ( 670171 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:58AM (#20741769) Homepage Journal
    A bricked iPhone can be returned for a full switch...
    I have a small scratch on my iPhone driving me insane, which is not enough to warrent an exchange.

    I will have to explain to my family that they should *not* update the firmware if they want to keep using t-moble, at least until someone else figures out how to unlock the phone. Or I will simply install my backup copy of the current firmware, no harm done and all.

    I mean, being able to play a few games while in airplane mode, having free personal ringtones ripped from our own media, using t-mobile, an ebay tracker, an application that uses cellphone triangulation to calculate your location on the map, an AIM client, a digital recorder for lectures and meetings, a quickbooks app, an ebook reader, and a NES emulator; are all worth more to us then having an itunes store on the phone that lets us know what songs are playing in our local starbucks... I mean with the tmobile 'total internet' package (for $19.95 a month), I can use the tmobile hotspot in my local starbucks, for speeds faster then EDGE.... A greater convinence in my mind.
  • quote (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Darth Maul ( 19860 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @09:00AM (#20741783) Homepage
    This quote from Airplane! seems appropriate:
    "Shanna, they bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash."

    Honestly, they are not using the iPhone as intended and they full well knew it. To make Apple take into account third-party hackery is just silly. I'm not saying I like the idea of a locked-down iPhone in the first place, but that is not the argument here.

    • Re:quote (Score:5, Insightful)

      by graffix_jones ( 444726 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:13AM (#20742759)
      How trivial is it to perform a firmware checksum prior to attempting the update (via the updater)? If the checksum fails, the firmware updater can do one of two things: it can offer to reset the firmware to factory defaults (i.e. a 'complete' restore), or it can simply show a splash screen refusing the update until the iPhone is restored to factory defaults.

      This crap of bricking the iPhone is pure nonsense, when it's easy enough to avoid without completely pissing off the customer.

      Remember the old adage: "Whether you CAN do something is irrelevant, it's whether or not you SHOULD do it." (I know I mangled that, so please don't nail me on correctness).
      Words of wisdom, those are (to paraphrase Yoda).
  • by Lars T. ( 470328 ) <.moc.liamelgoog. .ta. .regearT.sraL.> on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @09:19AM (#20741997) Journal
    is that they won't check future software updates to the iPhone to work with each and every unlocking hack somebody came up with.

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson