iPhone unlock hackers promise to fight Apple updates

Responding to Apple, iPhone Dev Team issues its own combative memo

The programmers who wrote free software that unlocks Apple Inc.'s iPhone today disputed the company's claim that their hacks can damage the device, and they promised to battle any attempt by Apple to "brick" modified phones.

In a message posted to the iPhone forum on the Hackint0sh Web site, someone claiming to represent the iPhone Dev Team said the group would answer the firmware update expected this week with a tool of its own that would return any unlocked phone to a factory-fresh condition. That will prevent the iPhone from being "bricked," or incapacitated, when the update is applied.

"We will provide you with a tool in the next week which will be able to recover your 'nck' counter and 'seczones' and even enable you to restore your phone to a factory-like state if you are really [determined] to update your phone," said someone identified as "sam." [Ed. note: punctuation added and grammar corrected.]

He also said the iPhone Dev Team takes exception with Apple's contention that modifications can break the device. "[Apple speaks] of 'damage' done to the firmware and 'unauthorized access' to our own property," the message said. [But] Apple [has] now announced [that] the next firmware update, [which] we may expect later this week, will possibly break the handsets of all of us free users in the world intentionally," the message said. It went on to say of Apple's claims, "we know better" and said the unlocking software "is not causing 'damage' as they want to make us belive [sic]."

The iPhone Dev Team is responsible for creating anySIM, a free open-source utility that lets users make and receive calls on networks other than that of AT&T, currently the only authorized carrier for the iPhone. The anySIM software is one of several unlocking hacks now in circulation.

The hackers' manifesto is just the latest in what Apple CEO Steve Jobs called a "cat-and-mouse game" between his company and those who want to make unauthorized changes to the iPhone. In London a week ago to tout the smart phone's Nov. 9 launch in the U.K., Jobs implicitly promised that Apple would counter attempts to unlock the iPhone.

"People will try to break in, and it's our job to stop them breaking in," he said then.

Yesterday, Apple issued a statement of its own, saying that any modification to an iPhone automatically voids its warranty. It also warned customers against unlocking their phones. "Apple has discovered that many of the unauthorized iPhone unlocking programs ... will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed," the company said.

A firmware update, the third since the iPhone went on sale in late June, will be released through iTunes this week. Apple is expected to add new features to the phone, including the ability to purchase music over a Wi-Fi connection.

The iPhone Dev Team spokesman advised users who had already unlocked their phones to not apply the update, saying they should instead wait while others, presumably including the iPhone Dev Team's own programmers, analyze it. Elsewhere in the message, the spokesman claimed that about 500,000 copies of the free unlocking tool had been downloaded. If true, it would mean that almost half of the iPhones sold so far have been unlocked. Apple announced only two weeks ago that it had just sold its 1 millionth iPhone.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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