Have you ever bought a new phone or electronic device only to find it incompatible with an app or software you want to download? This experience may be particularly familiar to iPhone and Apple users, as Apple is well-known for its impenetrable software that is only compatible with other Apple products or specific types of software.

Jailbreaking circumvents this issue and breaks through the software restrictions implemented by the device's manufacturer. However, it does come with risks and leaves you open to security vulnerabilities, so you should be cautious before deciding to jailbreak any device you have.

So what exactly is jailbreaking? Is it legal? Is it safe? And how do you jailbreak a phone?

Join us as we find answers to all these questions and more.

Jailbreaking refers to the process of installing software onto an electronic device that opens the device to other software that the manufacturer has attempted to make incompatible. The name 'jailbreaking' derives from the fact that it frees users from the limits imposed by the device, only being compatible with certain types of software.

Jailbreaking allows the user to access apps and software that were previously unavailable to them due to restrictions imposed by the manufacturer.

woman stands in room and checks iphone

Jailbroken phones are smartphones that have been modified, broken, or cracked to overcome the manufacturer's limitations. Once a phone has been jailbroken, you will have unrestricted access to apps, files, and software otherwise unavailable on such a device.

The term jailbreaking is most commonly used in reference to jailbroken iPhones, as Apple devices are regarded to be the most locked handsets on the market. Apple famously uses a 'walled garden' approach to its software, which means it controls what software can and cannot be used on its devices. A jailbroken iPhone (or any of the other iOS devices) can use software and apps that Apple has not permitted.

This contrasts with the Android operating system, which is far more amenable to customisation. Although it is still possible to jailbreak an android device, the primary reason for doing so would be to run a different (and presumably preferable) operating system.

Jailbreaking does not alter the phone's core features, and a jailbroken phone can still use apps from the original operating software's app stores. However, even if a phone has been jailbroken, you can only download rejected apps from independent app stores such as Cydia. These alternative app stores are usually installed as part of the jailbreaking process.

The easiest way of accessing a jailbroken phone is to buy one from a phone shop. However, it is also possible to jailbreak a phone yourself. This should come with the caveat that some jailbreaking apps and software may harm your phone, and we cannot guarantee the safety of any specific app you download.

If you are performing your own jailbreak, you need to know that there are two types:

  • A tethered jailbreak. This type of jailbreak requires your device to be plugged into a computer whilst being jailbroken.
  • An untethered jailbreak. This type of jailbreak does not require your device to be plugged into a computer, as everything required for the jailbreak is contained on the phone.

So here is a general guide on how to jailbreak a phone:

  • Note the operating system and device model of your phone. These factors will determine which jailbreaking software you need to download.
  • Find jailbreak software that is compatible with your device model and operating system. The best way to do this is to search online forums, as the jailbreaking and device software is constantly updating, so you must find the latest match.
  • Back up your phone data to a hard drive or cloud storage.
  • Download and run the jailbreaking software and determine whether it is tethered or untethered. Before you install software, research it online to ensure it is up-to-date and is not associated with any viruses or security risks.
  • Follow the instructions provided by the software.

Jailbreaking can be reversed, but the reversal will wipe your phone, so ensure you back up your data before you begin the process.

phone screen showing various social network apps

Jailbreaking is not strictly illegal in the UK. However, the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003 state that you can break operating system barriers for operational reasons, but you cannot do so to install pirated apps. Pirated apps are copies of official apps made for free for people with jailbroken devices. So jailbreaking is not illegal, but the purposes for which many people use a jailbroken phone are.

Apple has argued that anyone who jailbreaks their devices is committing crimes as it exposes their operating systems to potential pirating, which would be a breach of copyright. However, the UK and US courts have so far disagreed. While Apple is against its products being jailbroken, it has not pursued legal action against jailbreakers and has even thanked them on occasion for exposing their security flaws.

The laws in other countries may vary, and they may even change in the US and the UK, so be sure to keep up to date with any developments if you want to jailbreak your phone.

Irrespective of its legality, jailbreaking your phone will void its warranty and leave you open to security issues not protected by the operating system you choose to download.

As we have already seen, jailbreaking your phone is not always safe. It can open up opportunities for your phone to be hacked by cybercriminals if you download unsafe jailbreaking software or software that has security flaws that regular operating systems do not.

When you jailbreak a phone, you are waiving the manufacturer's promise of security. So if an un-jailbroken phone experiences security issues, the user may be able to seek help from the manufacturer. Whereas if the phone is jailbroken, they cannot.

A jailbroken device will no longer receive operating system updates that protect the device from the latest security threats. Furthermore, when you download apps from an alternative app store, they will not have been screened and checked by Google Play or Apple's App store security system and could pose a security risk.

Before jailbreaking a phone, you should consider the kind of information and data you have stored on it. Remember, if your phone gets hacked or infected with a virus, your contacts' details are also at risk, and you could be putting them in danger of being spammed or targeted. Also, consider who owns your phone. If it is your work, is jailbreaking the best idea? What would happen if your work contact database was hacked because you jailbroke your device?

This is why, although jailbreaking may be legal, it is not always recommended. Viruses are rare on phones, but they can happen and are very damaging when they do.

The risks of jailbreaking your phone include:

  • Security breaches. Jailbreaking allows you to download apps that are not security checked and may leave you vulnerable to hackers. Your data may be stolen, or you could end up with malware on your phone, resulting in many different forms of attack against you or your contact base.
  • Performance problems. Jailbroken phones will no longer receive system updates. These updates fix bugs, improve the device's performance, and close any security flaws within the system. If you have jailbroken your phone, you will need to rely on the jailbreaking community behind your software to provide the updates.
  • A reduction in battery life. Hacked software can also lead to a shorter battery life, which can cause wider damage to your phone's hardware and general functioning ability.
  • Losing your warranty. A jailbroken phone is no longer covered by the manufacturer's warranty, which means you do not have a safety net or protection if your phone malfunctions, whether due to the jailbreaking process or not.

So with all the risks of jailbreaking, why would anyone choose to do it? Well, there are quite a few reasons. Here are some of the benefits of jailbreaking:

  • Customising your phone. A jailbroken phone can be customised in ways that regular phones can't. You can break free from the limited user experience imposed by the manufacturer and design your icons, wallpaper, app menus, etc. It also allows you to connect your phone with otherwise incompatible devices, an iPhone, to a PC, for example.
  • Download unauthorised apps. Once a phone is jailbroken, you can download apps not approved by your device's manufacturer. You may want to download a particular game, network tool, social media platform, or anything else not permitted by certain devices.
  • Remove default apps. All the pre-installed, default apps use a lot of memory and occupy your phone's space. If there are some you don't use, they are simply prohibiting you from being able to fill your phone with apps you want. When you jailbreak your phone, you can remove all the default apps to free up space.
  • Lose carrier restrictions. Carrier restrictions limit your phone use in particular countries. If you jailbreak your phone, you can unlock carrier restrictions and use your phone as much as you like wherever you like.
man sits in darkened room at laptop with phone in hand

Jailbreaking a phone is the act of downloading software that frees your phone from the software restrictions imposed by the manufacturer. You can buy a pre-jailbroken phone, or you can jailbreak it yourself. If you choose to do it yourself, you should be especially careful when choosing jailbreaking software.

Jailbreaking has many benefits, but it also comes with several risks. Before you jailbreak your phone, make sure you have backed everything up and take all the necessary precautions to ensure you and your contact base are kept safe.