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What Does Jailbreaking an iPhone Do? (Risks and Benefits)

Jailbreaking gives your iPhone more customization options — but at the cost of its security and your safety. Here are the risks you should know about.

Illustration of an iPhone with a broken jail cell on the screen.

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      Is It Worth It (or Safe) To Jailbreak Your iPhone?

      Jailbreaking your iPhone gives you the power to customize your device beyond Apple’s factory restrictions, and download and install unauthorized apps from outside the official App Store — but it also comes with significant risks to your data and mobile security. 

      Jailbroken iPhones are much more susceptible to performance issues, viruses, and hacking that can put your devices, data, and even your identity at risk.

      Every month, nearly nine million new malware programs are discovered [*]. By jailbreaking your iPhone, you weaken its defenses and open yourself up to multiple security vulnerabilities. 

      The good news is that whether you accidentally bought a jailbroken device or jailbroke it yourself, it's not too late to go back. In this guide, we’ll explain how jailbreaking works, the risks that come with it, and how you can reverse the process. 

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      What Does Jailbreaking an iPhone Do?

      Jailbreaking is the term used to describe freeing an electronic device from its software and customization limitations. The term usually relates specifically to iPhones, as they have historically been more restricted than Android devices and other smartphones.  

      There are typically two types of jailbreaking methods available to iPhone users:

      • A tethered jailbreak is a temporary state that requires you to re-jailbreak your device after each time you reboot or reset it. 
      • An untethered jailbreak is a one-time activity that keeps your iPhone in a jailbroken state. 

      While terms like "rooting" and "cracking" may also be used interchangeably with jailbreaking, they tend to have different contexts. 

      “Rooting” typically refers to gaining administrative privileges (or root access) to the Android operating system, whereas “cracking” refers to breaking software copy protections and digital rights management (DRM) protections. 

      Here are some of the things you might be able do on a jailbroken iPhone: 

      • Download and install apps from outside the official App Store. One of the main benefits of jailbreaking your iPhone is that it allows you to install any app — even apps that aren’t offered in the Apple App Store. This gives you more access to third-party apps and software, but it can also make your device more vulnerable to malicious software and fake apps that haven’t passed Apple’s rigorous security testing.  
      • Further customize your iPhone or other iOS device. After a jailbreak, you can customize the look and layout of your iOS device — accessing new themes, icons, and sounds. You can even get interface gestures that are only available on jailbroken devices.  
      • Unlock carrier restrictions and access other mobile networks. Originally, the iPhone was only available for AT&T customers. The first iOS jailbreaking communities were mainly filled with iPhone users who wanted access to different mobile network providers. New iPhones, however, can now be easily unlocked by your mobile carrier [*].
      • Remove pre-installed apps. The number of pre-installed default apps that you can delete from your iPhone depends on your version of iOS. While iPhones come with many useful built-in apps, some take up storage space and never get used. Jailbreaks allow you to bypass the software restrictions and remove any app you don't want on the system.  
      • Additional anti-theft features. iPhones come with robust security features, including Find My iPhone and Face ID or Touch ID. However, these features have shortcomings — such as only working when online. Jailbreak apps and tweaks, like No2Theft, allow users to sound alarms, take photos, and enable data usage on stolen devices.

      Is jailbreaking your iPhone safe? No. A jailbroken iPhone trades customizability for cybersecurity by allowing you to bypass Apple’s App Store and device security settings. If you choose to jailbreak your device, be very careful about what apps you download; and always be on the lookout for signs that your iPhone has a virus.

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      Is iPhone Jailbreaking Illegal? 

      Because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), iPhone users in the United States can jailbreak their devices without fear of prosecution [*]. However, you still need to follow copyright laws regarding the apps and operating systems that you load onto your device. 

      While technically legal, jailbreaking your phone can also leave you left without a warranty or servicing from Apple, along with many other security-related issues.

      12 Risks Of Jailbreaking Your iPhone (or Other Apple Devices)

      1. Voids your device’s warranty
      2. Makes you more vulnerable to malicious apps and viruses
      3. Leads to shortened battery life and inferior performance
      4. Easier for your phone to get hacked
      5. Malware can get “root access” to your phone
      6. Inability to update your phone
      7. No more automatic updates
      8. Loss of access to content, services, and tools
      9. Weaker device performance and constant crashes
      10. Higher chance of data breaches
      11. Unreliable data and voice features
      12. Could result in "bricking"

      For most people, the risks of jailbreaking their iPhones far outweigh any benefits. Here are some of the most common jailbreaking issues you need to know about.  

      1. Voids your device’s warranty

      Because Apple deems jailbreaking your iPhone, iPad, or iPod as a "violation of the iOS and iPadOS Software License Agreement," the company can legally refuse service to a jailbroken device [*]. 

      When you violate the terms of this agreement, you also void the limited warranties on your devices — meaning you lose out on the included hardware repair coverage and technical support [*]. 

      What if your device is already out of warranty? Jailbreaking an out-of-warranty device can still be an issue, as you won’t be able to take it to the Apple store or an authorized Apple service center for help or repair.  

      2. Makes you more vulnerable to malicious apps and viruses

      While there are few true iPhone viruses, there are certain types of spyware, ransomware, and adware made specifically for iOS devices. When you jailbreak your iPhone, you bypass Apple’s security measures, which could leave you exposed and vulnerable to attacks — regardless of what you download.  

      3. Leads to shortened battery life and inferior performance

      A jailbroken iPhone might suffer performance issues and battery drain. This could be from downloading and running unoptimized, incompatible, or corrupted apps and software —  leading to resource-hungry background processes, power consumption, and overheating. 

      How do you boost battery life and performance? While iOS limits your performance customization abilities, you can control the background activity of your apps, which might improve device battery life and performance. Click on Settings, then General, and then Background App Refresh to choose which apps can run in the background [*]. 

      4. Easier for your phone to get hacked

      Jailbreaking your iPhone bypasses the device's current (and future) security features — making your device more susceptible to hackers and malware. Not only does jailbreaking make it possible for hackers to hack your iPhone; the modified system allows them to take greater control and do more damage. 

      How do you know if your iPhone was hacked? The signs may vary, but if you notice unfamiliar apps on your Home Screen, unusually high data usage, or if the device's performance is dropping, your phone could be hacked. You should also pay attention to your Apple ID account, taking note of any strange sign-in notifications or unauthorized purchases.  

      5. Malware can get “root access” to your phone

      Certain types of malware are designed to gain root access or privileges on your phone — often called rooting malware or rootkits. These types of malware infections are dangerous because they allow unchecked permission to add apps and malware to the device and make system modifications. Rooting malware can also hide and evade regular methods of detection. 

      Typically, the iPhone's closed ecosystem blocks malware from acquiring root access. Jailbreaking the device, however, may create a direct pathway for malware to get to your device's root. 

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      6. Inability to update your phone

      When you update a jailbroken iPhone, you can lose your modified system settings, jailbreak apps, and tweaks. Even your data is at risk because the iOS update may run into problems when restoring the system defaults. For this reason, most jailbreaks disable over-the-air (OTA) updates on your iPhone to prevent any issues. 

      How do you update a jailbroken phone? Before applying an update on any device — jailbroken or not — you should always back up your data. Once you've done that, you can connect your iPhone by USB to a Mac or PC, and update using iTunes or the Finder. You can also restore your device back to its original factory settings and update OTA.

      7. No more automatic updates

      Whenever Apple discovers an exploit, vulnerability, or bug in its software or systems, the company releases a patch or update to fix the issue and secure your iPhone. When you jailbreak, you lose out on these critical software updates. You can manually update your jailbroken device's software, but you may encounter compatibility or data loss issues.  

      8. Loss of access to content, services, and tools

      While you can still access Apple's App Store on a jailbroken iPhone, you may miss out on some important content and services. App developers might incorporate jailbreak detection to block devices with security risks. For example, many banking apps and some games won't run on modified systems. 

      You might also find that some newer content and services only function with the latest operating systems or updates. 

      9. Weaker performance and constant crashes

      Apple ensures that all apps and services available on the iPhone run smoothly, but jailbreak apps and tweaks sidestep this process. As a result, jailbreak add-ons may not function properly, or apps could freeze regularly. They might even eat up resources and degrade the overall performance of the phone.  

      How can you troubleshoot an underperforming iPhone? Start by rebooting your device. You should also check your storage space by clicking on Settings, then General, and then [Device] Storage. Your iPhone will provide you with some storage-saving recommendations here, which you can choose to ignore or enable [*]. 

      10. Higher chance of data breaches 

      Apple uses a sandbox approach to isolate apps and limit their access to user data. The company also reviews each app and developer to protect users from unsafe practices. Jailbroken devices don't have these restrictions and policies in place, meaning you could accidentally give up access to your personal information if you're not careful. 

      How do you check for data breaches? If an organization is breached, it can take weeks or even months for you to get notified. To receive timely information, you need to regularly check the Dark Web for your data — such as by using a free password scanner or by signing up for constant Dark Web monitoring

      11. Unreliable data and voice features

      While jailbreaking your iPhone may not directly impact your phone's voice and data, certain jailbreak additions can. You could find that your phone is unable to either connect to the internet by using data or switch between Wi-Fi and data networks effectively. 

      If your carrier spots a security issue in your device, it may choose to disable certain services. In fact, with the ability to modify network settings on your jailbroken device, you might inadvertently cause lasting data and voice problems. 

      12. Could result in "bricking"

      A bricked phone means it no longer turns on or responds to anything. This can happen in a few different ways — such as if something goes wrong during the jailbreak process and leaves the phone in limbo, or by adding corrupted software to the device afterward. 

      How do you fix a bricked iPhone? Start with a force restart [*]. Depending on your phone, you can do this by pressing and quickly releasing the volume up button, then doing the same with the volume down button, and then pressing and holding down the side button until the Apple logo appears. 

      You can also do this while connected to a Mac with the Finder open, or a PC with iTunes open to enter recovery mode. You can then select your device on the computer, and click on Update or Restore

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      How To Check If Your iPhone Is Jailbroken (and Fix It)

      Due to the risks associated with jailbreaking devices, buyers on the used iPhone market need to proceed with caution. If you don't know how to check, you could buy a used jailbroken iPhone without knowing it — potentially leaving you with an exposed, unsupported, and underperforming device.  

      Thankfully, you can find out if your device is jailbroken and restore it back to its original state.

      Check if your iPhone is jailbroken

      Unfortunately, spotting a jailbreak in your iPhone isn't as easy as it probably should be. Ever since Apple removed the System and Security Info iOS app from the App Store [*], there are no jailbreak detection tools available. However, there are a few checks you can perform to figure it out.  

      How to find out if your iPhone is jailbroken:

      • Search for Cydia. The presence of Cydia — an alternative app store for jailbroken iOS devices — may be your best clue. Look for Cydia on your device by swiping left from your Home Screen until you reach the App Library [*]. Tap on the Search field at the top of the screen, and enter “Cydia.” Even if the app is hidden, it will appear in the search results. 
      • Look for jailbreak tools and apps. Look through your App Library for unfamiliar apps that are not available through Apple's App Store. You can also check the App Privacy Report by clicking on Settings and then Privacy & Security [*]. This allows you to see the permissions and network activity of each app. 
      • Check your system settings. Jailbreaks allow users to tweak their iPhone systems and settings. You might find evidence of a jailbreak in the iPhone Settings or the Control Center in the form of unusual or non-standard layouts or icons. 

      Remove iPhone viruses and hacks

      iPhones may not be as vulnerable to threats as other devices, but you may still see signs that your phone was hacked or picked up a virus. Though there are no traditional antivirus apps available for iPhones, there are ways to remove malware and rid your iPhone of viruses

      How to remove viruses and hacks on your iPhone:

      • Remove suspicious apps. Hackers and cybercriminals use malicious Apps to spread viruses and steal your information. Delete suspicious apps from your Home Screen or App Library by touching and holding the app icon and clicking on Delete. 
      • Clear cache, browsing history, and data. Go to Settings on your iPhone and click on Safari. You can then click on Clear History and Website Data to refresh your device [*]. 
      • Update your Apple ID password. If hackers have access to your Apple account, you need to expel them by changing your password. Create a unique password that contains at least 10 characters, including a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters and at least one number or symbol.

      Back up your device

      When you reset your iPhone, you erase all content and settings from the device. Creating a backup will allow you to restore your iPhone should something go wrong when reversing the jailbreak. 

      NOTE: If your iPhone is compromised when creating the backup, the backup may also be compromised. 

      How to back up your device:

      • Back up iCloud. Click on your [Device Name] in Settings and then click on iCloud. Now, select iCloud Backup and click on Back Up Now [*].
      • Back up with a Mac. Open the Finder on your Mac and connect your iPhone to the computer. Select your iPhone and click on Back Up Now [*].
      • Back up with iTunes on a PC. Open iTunes on your PC and connect your iPhone to the computer. Choose your device in iTunes and click on Summary and then Back Up Now [*].

      Reverse the jailbreak

      The most effective way to reverse a jailbreak is to restore the device back to its factory settings. This will remove all non-standard apps, modified settings, and data from the device. 

      NOTE: Anything you have saved that is not backed up will be lost during this process. 

      How to factory reset an iPhone: Click on Settings, then General, and then Reset. From here, select Erase all Contents and Settings.

      💡 Related: Why a Factory Reset Won’t Remove All Viruses (Do This Instead)

      How To Protect Your iPhone From Malware and Hackers

      Once you have your iPhone back in its original, unmodified state, the safest thing you can do is keep it that way. While only a small fraction of malware targets Apple operating systems [*], threats do exist and they affect jailbroken devices far more often than not. 

      Regardless of your iPhone's state, it's worthwhile to put in the extra effort to protect your device, accounts, and information from online threats. 

      Here are some of the best ways to keep your devices and data safe: 

      • Only download apps from the official Apple App Store. Apple runs strict security tests on all new apps to ensure that only the safe ones get listed in the App Store. Even if you do download a compromised app accidentally, it most likely won’t be able to access your secure data on a non-jailbroken device.
      • Make sure you enable security settings in Safari. Safari has built-in protections, such as fraudulent website warnings, pop-up ad blockers, and cross-site tracking prevention. Make sure these features are enabled in your Safari Settings [*]. 
      • Keep regular backups of your phone and other devices. A regular backup schedule ensures that you always have a recent and clean copy of your data and settings on hand. Set this up in your device Settings by clicking on iCloud, then iCloud Backup, and then turning on Back Up This [Device] [*]. 
      • Enable auto-updates on your phone. Apple developers regularly release security patches and app updates to keep your device safe and well-functioning. With auto-updates enabled, you won't miss any updates or the latest version of iOS. To turn these on, click on Settings, then General, then Software Update, and enable Automatic Updates
      • Learn to spot the warning signs of a phishing scam. If you know the red flags of phishing scams, you can more effectively avoid them. For example, look out for unsolicited emails and text messages, avoid clicking on suspicious links, and take note of unusual greetings and urgent tones. 
      • Use unique and secure passwords for each account. Your passwords are the only barrier between hackers and your personal data and money. You should create a unique and complex password for every online account — including your Apple ID, banking, and social media accounts. 
      • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible. 2FA makes it harder for hackers by adding another verification step to the login process. Set up 2FA for all accounts that offer it; and consider using an authenticator app, which creates codes that are harder to intercept than text messages.  
      • Avoid using public Wi-Fi, or make sure to use a virtual private network (VPN). Public Wi-Fi networks may be susceptible to breaches and “evil twin” network attacks. When you connect to a compromised network, you may give up access to your device and any information on it. 
      • Monitor your identity and finances with an identity theft protection service. Identity theft protection providers keep constant tabs on your accounts, credit, and information. If anything irregular takes place, you'll be notified immediately and helped through the recovery process.

      While you can manually monitor your own personal data, devices, and finances, there’s always a chance that hackers and scammers can slip by your defenses. 

      That’s why thousands of people sign up for Aura every single month. 

      Aura combines artificial intelligence (AI)-powered digital security tools with award-winning identity and credit monitoring, 24/7 U.S-based customer support, and up to $5 million in identity theft insurance coverage for you and your family. 

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      Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you to increase awareness about digital safety. Aura’s services may not provide the exact features we write about, nor may cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat discussed in our articles. Please review our Terms during enrollment or setup for more information. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime.

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