Apple Fears Jailbroken iPhones Could Kill Phone Networks

Fighting an attempt to win a copyright law exemption that would sanction the use of unauthorized iPhone software, Apple claims phone networks are at risk when it's not in charge.
Apple believes that iPhones with unauthorized software are a threat to the nation's telecommunications infrastructure.

In its effort to encourage the Copyright Office to deny a requested exemption to the anti-circumvention provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act -- which makes it illegal to alter or "jailbreak" Apple's iPhone software -- Apple earlier this month responded to Copyright Office queries about the exemption under consideration by warning that unsanctioned iPhone alterations could allow hackers to crash cell towers.

Using a jailbroken iPhone, "a local or international hacker could potentially initiate commands (such as a denial of service attack) that could crash the tower software, rendering the tower entirely inoperable to process calls or transmit data," Apple asserts in its Copyright Office filing.

A recent estimate puts the number of jailbroken iPhones at 2.3 million. An FCC spokesperson was not able to immediately provide examples of any denial-of-service attacks on cell towers using hacked iPhones.

However, negative network impact arising from use of jailbroken iPhones has been documented. About a week ago, the Pushfix application for jailbroken iPhones was found to be sending AIM messages to multiple phones as a result of a programming error.

Apple also asserts that a variety of other harms follow from the use of jailbroken iPhones. These include: crashes and instability, compromised public safety, invasion of privacy, exposure of children to harmful content, exposure of users to malware, the inability to update software, cellular network degradation, piracy of mobile phone apps, an increase in support costs, the discouragement of innovation, and damage to Apple's brand and to its relationship with developers.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation requested the DMCA exemption last year to allow iPhone users to run software beyond what is authorized by Apple.

Although Apple maintains that it oversight of the iPhone benefits consumers, the company's recent decision to reject Google's Google Voice application has prompted increased questioning of Apple's iPhone oversight.

"It's not the DMCA's job to force iPhone users to buy only Apple-approved phone applications," said EFF staff attorney Fred von Lohmann in December. "The DMCA is supposed to block copyright infringement, not competition."

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