Japanese man arrested for selling jailbroken iPhones

Would you jailbreak your iPhone if you could, and if it were easy to do?

Would you pay a bit extra for a second-hand device that had been jailbroken for you?

Jailbreaking is where you exploit bugs in Apple’s software to remove the restrictions imposed on your device by the operating system itself.

Jailbreaking liberates your iPhone from Apple’s “walled garden,” by which you are forced to shop at the App Store only.

That frees you up to run a whole range of apps that you can’t get via the official App Store, including apps with features that Apple won’t allow in the App Store at all.

Ironically, one example of a prohibited feature that requires a jailbroken iPhone is checking for a jailbroken iPhone.

That may sound like a pointless feature. If your phone isn’t jailbroken, why check if it is? The obvious answer, of course, is, “Why not?” If you’re a concerned user, or a sysadmin who’s serious about business security, you might want to keep an eye open for security anomalies – such as someone else sneakily jailbreaking your iPhone for nefarious reasons such as stealing data or installing malware.

Of course, jailbreaking also makes it much easier to install and use stolen, illegal or pirated content, including apps, music, videos and so on.

That doesn’t, ipso facto, make jailbreaking bad, which is why we’ve often voiced suggestions like this one:

[Although jailbreaking brings a security risk,] we nevertheless wish that Apple would come to the jailbreaking party, even though we’d continue to recommend that you avoid untrusted, off-market apps.

We suspect that Apple would benefit both the community and itself by offering an official route to jailbreaking – a route which could form the basis of independent invention and innovation in iDevice security by an interested minority.

For now, however, jailbreaking remains a controversial issue – especially, it seems, in Japan.

Reports from Toyama, a city in the central part of Japan, say that a 24-year-old man named Daisuke Ikeda was recently arrested for selling five pre-jailbroken iPhones online.

Apparently, the phones also included a hacked version of Monster Strike, an online game that’s popular in Japan.

The alternative version of the game supposedly gave players greater powers in the game than they’d have if they were using the official version.

Racking up gameplay points or accessing powerful characters without earning or paying for them is unlikely to earn you many friends amongst players who have built up prestige in the game the hard way…

…and, in Japan, it seems it can land you in trouble with the police too.

According to the Japan Times, Ikeda had sold 200 iPhones before his arrest, “raking in an estimated ¥5,000,000 [about $50k] in sales.”

(Of course, that wasn’t his profit: there’s no suggestion that the phones were unlawfully acquired, so you have to subtract Ikeda’s purchase price from his average selling price of $250 per phone.)

What’s not clear from this case is the attitude of the authorities in Japan to jailbreaking in general.

If you decide to jailbreak your own phone, purchased outright in locked-down form – for example to run ported Unix utilities that would otherwise be blocked, or to install additional security features that Apple doesn’t provide – is that OK?

Afterwards, can you sell it on, or do you have to restore it with locked-down Apple firmware first?

What if it was a model that Apple no longer supported, so there wasn’t any recent firmware to restore?

One thing is certain: trying to regulate jailbreaking raises as many questions as it answers.