Apple has been locked in a long-term war of attrition against iOS jailbreakers. Apple would release a new version, and the jailbreakers would get to work cracking it using vulnerabilities, which Apple would then fix.
And so the cycle went on. Apple releasing updates, and the jailbreaking community poking holes in them again.
Today at the WWDC 2013 keynote speech, Apple unveiled a new iOS 7 feature designed to combat iPhone theft, and suddenly Apple has a good reason to battle against jailbreaking.
The new feature is called Activation Lock, and what this does is prevent a thief from bypassing the iPhone's Find My iPhone and lockscreen passcode by wiping the handset. Even after being wiped, the handset needs the owner's Apple ID in order to be used again.
Although not mentioned in the keynote, I'm assuming that Activation Lock will work for iPads and iPod touch devices too.
Activation Lock is a long way removed from the frankly pathetic security features built into current releases of iOS, which can be bypassed by wiping the handset, or jailbreaking the device.
Since jailbreaking involved bypassing the security features that Apple has built into iOS, a feature like Activation Lock would be useless if all the thief had to do was jailbreak the handset in order to bypass the security feature.
Now Apple's long-term war against the jailbreakers makes sense. Perfect sense.
While in most cases people jailbreak iOS devices for benign reasons, such as to allow them to be able to get access to third-party apps not present in Apple's App Store, jailbreaking can also be used nefariously, for example, to run pirated apps or to gain access to the personal data stored on a handset.
While I've been a fan of users having the ability to jailbreak their devices – devices that they after all have paid for and own – Apple's announcement of Activation Lock has caused me to change my stance.
While I continue to believe that the jailbreaking community should be free to pursue jailbreaking without fear of prosecution, I now feel that Apple has a duty to do everything in its power to thwart jailbreakers at every opportunity. After all, theft of mobile devices, especially those with Apple logos on them, is reaching epidemic proportions, and the best way to put a damper on these thefts is to make stolen hardware valueless. Activation Lock goes some way to doing just that.
This also means that Apple will need to step up its game with respect to patching jailbreak vulnerabilities in iOS 7. No more can it leave them in place for weeks, and sometimes months. For Activation Lock to be effective, Apple will need to patch iOS jailbreak exploits in a timely fashion.
If Apple is taking this seriously, the days of iOS jailbreaking are almost over.
UPDATE: Some people think that passcode protect the iPhone from being accessed. Tools exist that can crack the earlier handsets, and failing this, the handset can just be wiped and returned to a blank state. If the iPhone has been stolen, then after wiping it can be sold.
The point I'm making is that a jailbreak crack in iOS could be a way to bypass Activation Lock, which is why Apple needs to block off such exploits.