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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?
  • 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...
  • Legal responsibility (Score:2, Interesting)

    by da_matta ( 854422 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:16AM (#20741307)
    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 of the bricking update.
  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:17AM (#20741325)
    Those who have hacked the phone are already denying ATT/Apple their revenue, so bricking the phones will not change that situation.
  • by mlwmohawk ( 801821 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:18AM (#20741327)
    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.
  • by ji777 ( 1107063 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:19AM (#20741347)
    Isn't this still the same sort of anti-competitive action that people have sued Microsoft over (with varying degrees of success), or am I missing something?
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • by laparel ( 930257 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:50AM (#20741687)

    What the fuck has morality got to do with this? I hope to all that is holy that you're being sarcastic.

    You seriously consider unlocking/hacking an iPhone, which you legally bought and own, to be morally wrong? Now unlocking the phone would void the warranty, yes; but that doesn't give Apple the right (nor moral high ground) to purposely brick my unlocked iPhone because they, "clearly state that the iPhone will only work on their network."

  • Re:Quiiiick. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by @madeus ( 24818 ) <> on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @08:58AM (#20741767)

    and then threaten to turn them into paperweights if you dare to use them away from their selected few.
    No, they didn't. They are not talking about "bricking" only network-unlocked phones (the actual quote was in the context of hacked iPods too). You are spreading FUD, like most people are on this thread, and the flamers and moderators are lapping it up too.

    In fact, in Europe (I don't know about the US) phones *must* be unlockable (providers often refer to this a 'subsidy code' - it's cheaper to buy it from a third party). It can be around 3-4 UKP to buy a subsidy code (generated from your IMEI) online, it's usually about 10-20 UKP to get it done on the high street and about 50+ UKP to get one from the original provider.

    After the contract period is up on AT&T from what I have read I believe they are letting you use the device with other providers . I'm not sure if that is through legal mandate or not, as I've indicated I don't know what US legislation there is covering network interoperability for mobile phones.

    In either case their most certianly ARE going to be unlocked iPhones out there, that's not the issue. All that's being said here is that "if you've modified the software on your iPhone, upgrading it [i.e. applying a binary delta which is intend to patch against the original OS] might prevent the phone from booting". I would add that if you find that even remotely surprising you are not sufficiently technical to be messing around applying 3rd party hacks to your phone's OS (and that you can almost certainly restore the original firmware on it, even if it won't boot - as with the iPod's).

    Slashdot is mis-representing the truth and people who love an excuse to rant against Apple are lapping it up in blind ignorance.

  • 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.

  • by EastCoastSurfer ( 310758 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @09:11AM (#20741927)
    It's possible this has happened, but has MS pushed down an update to the xbox which bricked it (prevented it from ever playing games) if it had a modchip?
  • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <> on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @09:17AM (#20741989)
    Don't apply any updates then, its that simple.

    Apple are selling what is essentially a sealed unit, every single device out there should be 100% identical (other than user data) in Apples view, so why should they check to see if their universal update to the iPhone would cause your individual unit harm? Its an extra hassle and effort that they really should have no need to do, since they sold the item with the intent of it remaining identical.

    If you change the game by modding or unlocking the iPhone, the onus is on you and you alone to then keep abreast of the play and pay due diligence to any updates to ensure they don't have any adverse effect on your non standard item.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @09:27AM (#20742113)
    I agree. Unlocking a phone is not hacking or cracking. Even Wal-Mart advertises and sells unlocked phones []. Just because Apple does not like the practice or unlocking does not fit into their business plan or revenue stream does not make it illegal, immoral, or wrong for you to do it. Willfully or negligently bricking an unlocked phone is immoral. If they know a phone may be bricked, they should take action to avoid it. If they did not know, they can claim ignorance. The simple fact that they acknowledged it could be bricked shows they are aware of the situation and may not have taken action to correct the issue.

    Upgrading firmware on any device is a risk, some companies take better controls than others to avoid problems. If error checking, check-sums, verification, initial status checking etc are not used, there will be an increase in problems. All Apple would have to do is get a check-sum on the current firmware and if it is not a valid Apple load, throw an error code and abort the firmware update process. There, no bricks on hacked firmware. They should be doing this anyway. Problem though is Apple may actually want to get rid of the hacked firmware and may proceed to attempt an upgrade that is of an unknown status. At that point, the motivation changes from "here is a helpful update" (first scenario) to one that "you are skirting our business model and we want it to stop" (second scenario). Which will they choose?
  • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @09:30AM (#20742143)
    Heh chief, better check your facts. You don't agree to the contract when you buy the phone. You agree to it when you activate it at home. If I don't activate it with ATT, I don't agree to any contracts.

    Also, I have a problem with a company actively preventing you from doing something protected by law (unlocking a phone is protected under the DMCA).

  • 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?

  • by HermMunster ( 972336 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:41AM (#20743183)
    DMCA says you can unlock a cell phone

    Cell phone manufacturers know about the DMCA exemption.

    Apple is a cell phone manufacturer.

    Apple knows about the exemption.

    Apple is locked into legally obliging what the DMCA exemption allows.

    Apple finds other ways to by pass the exemption.

    Is this legal?

    Apple's attempts must be such that they don't violate our right to unlock the cell phone.

    If they do they will be sued and they'll receive the requisite DMCA cease and decist letters.
  • by realthing02 ( 1084767 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:49AM (#20743321)
    This is completely true. I don't think we can prove that apple is 'knowingly' doing this. But I'm sure an office memo or something, if it does exist, would be leaked seeing as how there was quite a bit of turmoil inside over the iphone to begin with.

    Maybe the patch is just too difficult to make to circumvent the patch. I Doubt it, but i don't really know either.
  • by Koiu Lpoi ( 632570 ) <koiulpoi@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @02:08PM (#20746361)
    Nintendo threatened it with the Wii. Firmware 3.0 came with the warning message "If your Wii console has an unauthorized technical modification, this upgrade could cause inoperability of your console." Mind you, it didn't actually brick any Wiis, and the update was completely optional (seeing as they gave you the warning and the option to stop), I don't see the problem.
  • by laparel ( 930257 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @07:42PM (#20750253)
    I see, sorry I misread your first post. But then, if Apple deliberately bricks my hardware, chargebacks should be the least of their (and our) worries.

    Voiding the warranty shouldn't stop Apple from considering me a non-customer, doesn't it? Do I now not deserve the firmware updates because I chose to void the warranty, I am still a paying customer and should receive support right?
  • Re:Sort of. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @09:48PM (#20751141) Homepage
    That's different. That's blocking you from a *service* that they provide for users of unmodified XBox 360s.

    It's like you buy a Toyota that's designed to only run on Toyota fuel. You modify it to run on any petrol (since Toyota fuel is just petrol with colouring in it). MS's approach with the XBox is to ban you from filling your modded car up at Toyota petrol stations. Apple's approach is to pour sugar in your petrol tank.

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