Is Jailbreaking Your iPhone Safe?

Decide whether whiz bang features are worth the extra risks

Visitors use smartphones at they attend the 2014 re:publica conferences on digital society on May 6, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Apple maintains complete control over the App Store in iOS. If a developer creates an app that breaks Apple's rules, it won't get space in the marketplace no matter how innovative and useful it may be. However, hackers found a way to jailbreak the iPhone. A jailbroken iPhone can run unauthorized code without restrictions. Is jailbreaking worth it? Here are some things you may want to consider before you decide to jailbreak your iPhone.

Information in this article applies to all models of the iPhone and all versions of iOS.

Implications of Jailbreaking an iPhone

Developers who can't sell their software in the official app store have a new market: the Cydia and Rock app stores, which come as part of the jailbreaking process. These alternative outlets provide a home for the games and utilities that Apple rejected.

Without the restrictions Apple imposes, apps on the Cydia and Rock app stores can include different functionality than many of their iTunes counterparts. And some of these features are appealing to iPhone users who want to do things such as change the system font or give it iPad-style multitasking gestures.

Apple frowns on the practice of jailbreaking for business-related reasons, however, the practice of jailbreaking has some legal support from the United States Copyright Office.

Jailbroken iPhones Tend to Have Stability Issues

Since jailbroken app developers don't have to follow memory and CPU usage guidelines set by Apple, the end result might be reduced battery life, slower performance relative to non-jailbroken iPhones, and possible random reboots.

Performance management apps are available for jailbroken iPhones, but you may have to configure different settings if the phone has problems or issues.

Your Warranty Is Void If You Send in Your Jailbroken iPhone for Service

Apple doesn't provide support for jailbroken iPhones. If Apple finds out that you went through that process, it won't honor your warranty, and it may not matter if the issue you're requesting service for isn't related to the firmware. This issue could be a problem if you have hardware-related issues that require service, like a broken screen.

It's possible to reverse a jailbreak and put an iPhone back to its original state before you have any warranty service done. But Apple may have some way to detect that you modified the iPhone, so don't count on this as a cure-all.

Today's Cool Jailbroken-Only Features May Appear in Future iOS Versions

Some features that are incorporated into the latest iOS version started out as jailbroken apps. The jailbreaking community was able to sync iPhones over Wi-Fi for a while before Apple added that feature in iOS 5.

If you're willing to wait, your favorite jailbreak-only iPhone feature may make its way to a new version of iOS sooner or later. If a must-have feature arrives that you don't think will make it into a new version of the iPhone iOS, then jailbreaking may be the only way to get it.

You Could 'Brick' Your iPhone

Bricking is when you have done something to the phone that leaves it in an unusable state that can't be fixed by rebooting or reloading the software. While irreversible bricking of an iPhone is fairly rare, it's always a risk when you're attempting a jailbreak, especially if the software is in beta form and hasn't been through a lot of testing.

You May Get 'Locked Out' Of the App Store or Other Content Services

Although Apple doesn't appear to be taking major actions against jailbreakers, it's always possible that they could in the future as Sony has reportedly done with people who hacked PS3s by locking jailbroken PS3 users out of the PlayStation Network and its services.

Apple did effectively prevent many jailbroken iOS users from using the iBook store, but the jailbreak developers soon circumvented the ban. Internet providers such as Time Warner prevent jailbroken iOS devices from using their iPad-accessible TV app. Others may follow suit, making jailbreaking less appealing to people who view media on mobile devices.

Jailbreaking Can Open Your iPhone up to Malware

The Apple security team doesn't play a role in reviewing the code of non-iTunes App Store software, so you must rely on developers to police their code for potential security vulnerabilities. Malware developers may also create iPhone-specific viruses, spyware, and other malware disguised as legitimate apps. If you do jailbreak your iPhone, change the root password as soon as the jailbreak is complete or you may be the victim of a hack.

It's your decision whether the potential hazards are worth the perceived benefits of jailbreaking. For many jailbreakers, it's not about the cool apps; it's about the freedom to put whatever they want to on a phone without restrictions.​ But that flexibility may introduce complications that may not be worth the risk.