Hacker Claims To Have Activated iPhone Without AT&T

The feat by "DVD Jon," Jon Lech Johansen, demonstrates how Apple's attention-getting gadget is likely to become a favorite target of tech tricksters.
A hacker claims to have figured out a way to activate the iPhone without going through AT&T, a move that demonstrates how Apple's attention-getting gadget is likely to become a favorite target of tech tricksters.

The recent feat by Jon Lech Johansen, known as "DVD Jon" for his notoriety for breaking anti-piracy code on DVDs, is not expected to have any major impact on AT&T as the exclusive wireless carrier for the iPhone. While Johansen is offering a software download to activate the iPhone, the user would not be able to use the device as a mobile phone. Instead, the user would get access to the gadget's other functions, such as e-mail, video, music, and Web browsing through a Wi-Fi connection.

While interesting on an academic level, Johansen's Phone Activation Server v1.0 download would only attract technologists, Michael McGuire, analyst for Gartner, said. The vast majority of iPhone users wouldn't have much use for the software.

"It probably takes a reasonably sophisticated person to use this solution, and to what end," McGuire said. "I don't quite understand what problem he's solving. I'm not sure why you would want to pay $500 (for the iPhone) and then disable a big chunk of the functionality," McGuire told InformationWeek Thursday.

Nevertheless, the public's fascination with the iPhone, driven mostly by Apple's fine-tuned and highly effective marketing department, is bound to attract hackers looking to get attention or seeking a challenge. "People are going to try to hack and crack the iPhone," McGuire said. "That's simply the cost of doing business these days for everyone."

Many people posting comments on Johansen's blog praised his latest feat. "I salute all the people trying their best to 'free' the iPhone from its shell," said a person using the alias HaJo.

Others confirmed that Johansen's software worked, although not problem-free. "The only problem I have is the YouTube function is not working," a person who goes by the name Guff said.

Johansen is not the first to look for ways to activate the iPhone without signing up for AT&T's two-year plan, which starts at $60 a month. The Unofficial Apple Weblog posted a less techie way than Johansen's using AT&T's prepaid plan.

Johansen, a native of Norway who works as a software engineer for DoubleTwist Ventures, is a self-trained technologist who became well known among techies for his work on DeCSS software, which decodes the content-scrambling system used to enforce DVD licensing on movies. DoubleTwist is working on interoperability technology that would make it possible, for example, to play music bought from Apple's iTunes store on any device. Currently, songs downloaded from iTunes can only be played directly on the Apple iPod.

Johansen has been critical of Apple's DRM efforts in the past.

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