Apple, Jailbreaking and Patents

Monday, September 13, 2010

Put together these three words and you obtain an explosive cocktail that will surely make the headlines. End of July, a new type of Jailbreaking for iPhone and iPad appeared. Two weeks later, Apple closed the hole. Unfortunately, one week later, somebody highlighted an Apple patent that was filed in February 2009 (There is a period of 18 months after filing while the text of the patent is not public). It was claimed that Apple patented a method to fight jailbreaking and even brick the phone in case of jailbreaking. Most of the news I’ve seen on the Net where making the same statement.
Thus, I decided to have a look on this patent. The title of the patent is “Systems and methods for identifying unauthorized users of an electronic device”. Where is jailbreaking? The patent is about identifying an unauthorized user, not about identifying an unauthorized action. To identify an unauthorized users, the patent proposes in sub claims many solutions such as voice identification (comparing to voice print of authorized users), face recognition, heartbeat sensor (I was not aware of this type of biometrics, has somebody a good pointer?), or proximity detection of a sensor such as NFC. Once an unauthorized user detected, the patent claims that the device collects some information such as keylogging, logging the Internet activity, taking pictures with geotag, or using an accelerometer to identify the current mode of transportation. Then it sends an alert to a responsible party with the collected data.
The patent describes also a larger definition of unauthorized user by

“[0039]As another example, an activity that can detect an unauthorized user can be any action that may indicate the electronic device is being tampered with being, for example hacked, jailbroken, or unlocked. For example, a sudden increase in memory usage of the electronic device can indicate that a hacking program is being run and that an unauthorized user may be using the electronic device. “

Even funnier

“As yet another example of activities that can indicate tampering with the electronic device, an unauthorized user can be detected when a subscriber identity module (SIM) card is removed from or replaced in the electronic device.”

Good luck for the many false positives. Jailbreaking is really a side issue in this patent. It is more valid against thefts than against jailbreaking. Would the device be able to detect jailbreaking, most probably would it be able to cancel the action. Of course, now it is legal to jailbreak the phone, at least in the US.

The lesson is that you should not trust too much what you read in the blogs. Build your own opinion. read the source documents. I am sure that very few of the journalists or bloggers that reported the news did in fact have read the patent.

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