EFF asks US Copyright Office to exempt jailbreaking from DMCA

Filed Under: Android, Featured, Law & order, Microsoft, Mobile

EFF logoCurrently under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the United States it is illegal to circumvent Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology in a device.

Technically speaking things like jailbreaking your iPhone, rooting your Android and modding your Xbox can be considered a circumvention of DRM and are illegal.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has made a formal request to the US Copyright Office to consider exempting these activities from enforcement under the DMCA.

To us gadget geeks, this is great news. The ability to install Linux on our PS3 or install metasploit on our Android devices will result in hours of lost productivity.

If the EFF is successful how will this impact the security of these devices though?

Going against the wishes of your vendor can turn out to be quite the double-edged sword.

The good? In addition to the freedom to do what you like with your devices, it provides an opportunity to make them more secure if you have the knowledge.

For example you can load an updated Android operating system that has security fixes long before your vendor gets around to providing you with the official fix.

Maybe you don't like the Carrier IQ software your mobile carrier installed. You could remove it more easily.

Possibly you don't want to have to wait for Apple to get around to blocking the latest root certificate that has been compromised.

Angry pirateWhile some of us know how to do these things and try to take advantage of open access, many smartphone/game console users want to hack their devices to pirate games and software, even if only to "try before I buy".

Once you have removed the protective aura from your device you may be getting into deeper water than you can swim in.

A perfect example of this was the ikee worm for iOS. Not only did it Rickroll your iPhone, it only worked if it was jailbroken.

Why? Because the jailbreaking tool used by the victims enabled the SSH daemon on their phones in addition to the jailbreak. It turns out that all Apple iOS device root account passwords are "alpine".

Knowledgeable hackers would change the password or disable the service, but people looking for free hacked version of Angry Birds didn't know they were at risk.

We see a large amount of pirated software for Windows and Mac with embedded Trojans, and there is no reason to believe the same won't be done for game consoles and smartphones if enough people put themselves at risk.

Don't get me wrong, I support the EFF's efforts and hope they are successful. It's just that this new flexibility also comes with responsibility.

Hack the world! Just remember that you are on your own if you thumb your nose at the manufacturer of your device.

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6 Responses to EFF asks US Copyright Office to exempt jailbreaking from DMCA

  1. kimberxinspace7 · 963 days ago

    I have been thinking about jail breaking my Android for awhile now due to my paranoia about not being able to fully disable the GPS, which ended up being quite close to the truth. Anyway, my younger brother is really into this stuff, Linux & the messing with the Wii. I liked a lot of things about Linux but certain things bugged me... I know a decent amount about computers, have altered some things, html, can run emulators etc but honestly have not tried much with my Droid. I guess I'm a freak, but it isn't all that amazing to me... keep updating us not so tech savvy but willing to learn please (:

  2. Something to note is that, even though there has been no malicious use yet, the same techniques used to jailbreak your device can often be used to exploit your device. This is especially true of userland jailbreaks like the ones at jailbreakme.com. If you can jailbreak your device simply by visiting a website, that means that ANYONE (who knows how to do it) can jailbreak your device simply by you visiting a website -- which in turn means that on a security front, it doesn't matter (as much) if jailbreaking violates the DMCA, because the step from "protected" device to "insecure jailbroken device" can often be taken without your consent.

    Once such a jailbreak occurs, it doesn't even matter if the attackers know your root password, as their software is already running as root on your device.

    This is currently all theoretical, but as malware attacks on Windows, Linux and Macintosh computers (and the attacks on the Android platform) show, it's only a matter of time before someone finally decides it's lucrative enough to do it for dishonest gain.

  3. That's really great to hear that big companies are backing up the cause to free Iphone from its chains. We've paid for the phone, we should have a choice to do what we want with it at our own risks.

  4. Michael · 961 days ago

    Companies actually need the tinkerers, modders or hackers that provide additional product development at no cost to the company. These people are an extension to the company's R&D that can trial wacky applications for a product without having to worry about the strict government regulation that companies need to abide by. Without hotrodders and racing teams pushing the envelope for cars by hacking them to perform a purpose other than that originally intended they would have missed out on a lot of good ideas and testing that made cars what they are today. How many good ideas from jailbreaks made their way into subsequent versions of IOS ?
    What the company can't do is authorise or implicitly sanction any modification of their device. They can't afford the risk of being seen as responsible for changes that are dangerous, or even just go against the vision of the company. These hacks can make things worse as well, and apple doesn't want to be judged on the first hack effort from some kid somewhere.

  5. BKreps · 960 days ago

    I would like to know what kind of risk jail breaking an attached client (cellular connected device) presents to the network on which the rest of us rely. Does a jail broken client (cellular connected device) create any risks for those of us who have not circumvented the integrity of our devices?

    • David Pottage · 959 days ago

      No.

      Almost all smartphones contain two separate computers, The application processor and the baseband processor.

      The Application processor has a fast CPU & GPU, lots of memory etc, and runs the visual OS and apps that users can see. It is the part that jailbreakers and modders are tinkering with.

      The baseband processor runs a simplified hard realtime OS, and is resonsible for communications with the celuar network. It is separate from the application processor and communicates with it over an internal serial port.

      The software on the baseband processor is usually much more protected against modification, and in any case most moders have no interest in changing it, and unless they do nothing they do to the application processor can affect the cellular network as a whole or other users of the network.

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About the author

Chester Wisniewski is a Senior Security Advisor at Sophos Canada. He provides advice and insight into the latest threats for security and IT professionals with the goal of providing clear guidance on complex topics. You can follow Chester on Twitter as @chetwisniewski, on App.net as Chester, Chester Wisniewski on Google Plus or send him an email at chesterw@sophos.com.