Jailbreaking: What Parents Need to Know
Jailbreaking has been around just about as long as the iPhone has and while most people have heard of jailbreaking, not many know exactly what it is. This is a problem for parents who want to have some control over what their kids can and can’t do with their phones. Jailbreaking opens up a whole new world of digital safety issues.
Jailbreaking refers to the removing of hardware restrictions on iOS devices. The main reason that people jailbreak their phones is to have access to apps that aren’t available in the Apple app store. Some of these apps are harmless and simply help personalize the user interface. For instance, there are a number of apps that let you set multiple images for your background and flip through them at set intervals. But some of these are made with truly creepy intentions like stalking people. And not only can you install malicious apps to use on your own jailbroken device, you can install them on other people’s jailbroken phones to spy on them. Here are a couple jailbroken apps that we think parents need to know about.
- Snap Master
We’ve talked about Snapchat here before and how risky it may be for children. Many kids and teens think they can send whatever they want over Snapchat because the messages disappear after the recipient sees them. However, it may be even riskier than we initially thought. It turns out there’s a jailbroken version of Snapchat, called Snap Master.
Snap Master allows users to keep any images or videos they receive automatically. It also provides a number of harmless features like adding longer text over snaps or hiding the timer from view, but its biggest selling point is clearly the ability to save images and videos without the sender’s knowledge. The only way to tell if someone is using Snap Master is if you see that they’re using the longer text option. Of course, if they don’t want you to know that they’re using Snap Master, they won’t use this feature so it’s still entirely possible to send snaps to someone who uses Snap Master and not know it.
- Mobile Monitor
This app is pitched as a tool for monitoring your child’s smartphone activity but could easily be used by anyone to sneak spyware onto a jailbroken phone. After installing the app, all you have to do is enter your email address and then it will reboot the device and just about all evidence of the app ever being there will be gone. At this point you will receive an email with login information for a dashboard that allows you to monitor nearly everything that happens on that device. It will track everything from calls and texts to browsing history and GPS coordinates. It’s no surprise that this app comes with a remarkably long disclaimer about how illegal it is to use this app on someone’s device without their permission. Of course, a parent can legally do whatever they want with their child’s phone because the device really belongs to the person paying for it.
Thankfully, it’s not difficult to tell if a device has been jailbroken. Simply unlock the phone and swipe down to find the Spotlight Search. If Spotlight Search is disabled or if you can search and find an app called Cydia, the device has been jailbroken. This method isn’t entirely fool-proof since the nature of jailbreaking is that you can make your phone do just about anything you want but the alternative is to “run unsigned code as root” which I assume is a little outside the average parent’s expertise.
If you found that your child has jailbroken their iPhone or other iOS device, it’s very easy to fix. First, plug the device into your computer and open iTunes. Now iTunes should ask you if you’d like to backup your device, which you do. After you backup the device, you should see an option to restore it. This will reset the device to its original factory settings. Once it has been completely reset, you can restore it from the backup on your computer.
Jailbreaking an iOS device may be easily reversed but it’s also a good way to put your data at risk. It gives you more freedom to customize your phone, but it also makes your device vulnerable to attack. On a normal iPhone, the worst that can happen when you download an app is that it doesn’t work very well. But a bad jailbreak tweak could do a lot worse. Jailbreak tweaks have access to everything on your device (whether they use those features or not) so you could easily download an app that does what it says it does and have no idea what other malicious code it could be running.