What is jailbroken iOS, and is it safe to jailbreak your iPhone?

Dawna Roberts

Oct 18, 20236 min read

What is jailbroken iOS, and is it safe to jailbreak your iPhone? Header image

It’s no secret that Apple’s flagship product, the iPhone, has a massive following. Most users love the easy interface and the ability to customize settings. However, some users want so much control over the device that they use jailbreaking to modify their iPhones even further and run apps not available in the App Store.

The term “jailbreaking” refers to what some users consider the iPhone’s default “locked down” condition. As such, users equate jailbreaking with freeing themselves from the constraints of the system. But what does jailbreaking really look like in practice? But what does jailbreaking really look like in practice, and is it safe? Keep reading to learn all about jailbreaking, what it is, if it can be reversed, and the risk of using a jailbroken iOS device. 

An Apple iPhone on a MacBook keyboard.
Photo by Tomasz Kulesa via Unsplash

What is jailbreaking?

Apple tightly integrates the iPhone’s operating system (iOS) with its hardware. The tech giant locks down the phone to make it impenetrable to hackers and cybercriminals and keep users safe and secure. In contrast, the Android operating system is more “open,” allowing users to fully customize settings and install private third-party apps that are not approved by the Google Play Store without the need to jailbreak or “root” the phone.

The act of jailbreaking an iPhone is dismantling the operating system to access the root OS. This allows users to install software designed to exploit features of the phone or add additional functionality not originally intended by Apple. 

Is iOS jailbreaking illegal?

Within the United States, anyone can legally jailbreak a phone. The government enacted laws permitting this in 2010. However, you must still follow copyright laws and limit the software you install to legal apps. 

Jailbreaking your iPhone may not be legal in other countries, however. In other locations, the issue currently has no precedent in court. So, before jailbreaking your iPhone, explore the laws in your area.

What does a jailbroken iPhone look like?

A jailbroken iPhone looks the same as a standard iPhone. However, with some poking around, you can find signs that the phone has been tampered with and is no longer secured by the locked-down Apple operating system. 

Some signs that an iPhone has been jailbroken are:

  • Cydia or Sileo apps are installed on the phone. These apps cannot be installed on an un-jailbroken iPhone. 
  • Uncommon sketchy apps are installed on the phone.
  • A security scan shows that the phone has been jailbroken.
  • iPhone store technicians can verify it has been jailbroken or use a third-party app to check. 

Can a device jailbreak be reversed?

You may be wondering, “Can a jailbreak be reversed?” Yes, it is very easy to restore a jailbroken iPhone. All you need to do is restore or factory reset the phone using your Mac, and any jailbroken apps will be uninstalled automatically and all the settings restored. Don’t forget to back up your iPhone before reversing a jailbreak so you don’t lose any data from your apps.

Follow these steps:

  1. Plug your iPhone into your Mac.
  2. Open Finder and look for your iPhone. 
  3. Click it and select General.
  4. Click Restore iPhone near the bottom.
  5. You can choose to restore from a backup or factory reset the phone.
  6. Follow the onscreen prompts to complete the procedure.
A screenshot of the iPhone factory reset process on Mac.
iPhone is a trademark of Apple Inc.

Another popular question is, “Will I lose all my data if I jailbreak my iPhone?” Not if you continue to back up your data. Later, when you reverse the jailbreak, you’ll have to restore from a backup. Your data may be inaccessible while the phone is jailbroken, but your backup data should remain safe and sound in the cloud.

Is it safe to jailbreak an iPhone?

Jailbreaking your iPhone is unsafe, plain and simple. You are no longer protected by Apple’s fortified iOS, which was built to keep hackers out. This means your phone may be more vulnerable to attacks, especially if you install specific types of apps. Plus, a jailbroken phone cannot install updates, which means you won’t be able to patch the phone with security updates.

It’s also worth noting that Apple does not support a jailbroken phone and considers it a violation of its terms and conditions for using an iPhone. 

The risks of using a jailbroken iOS device

Despite the few benefits of jailbreaking iOS, which include more control over the device, installing unapproved apps, and removing built-in apps, jailbreaking poses many risks. Some of those include the following. 

Disabling iOS updates

As mentioned above, a jailbroken iPhone cannot receive Apple updates. That includes security patches and new releases with updated features and functionality. 

Bricking: Permanently disabling your iPhone

In some cases, jailbreaking permanently disables the phone. The screen goes dead, the phone is unresponsive, and you cannot do anything with it. This is known as “bricking your phone” because even technicians won’t be able to restore it. It basically becomes a brick. 

Voiding the iPhone’s warranty

When you jailbreak the phone, you void the iPhone’s warranty because the process violates Apple’s terms and conditions of use. Apple doesn’t go after people who jailbreak their phones, but they won’t fix them either.

Poor battery life

Another major drawback to jailbreaking your iPhone is that you may see significantly less battery life, even with regular everyday use. 

Losing access to your apps and data

When jailbreaking your device, you may lose access to the built-in features and syncing abilities that make the iPhone so usable. You may be unable to access iCloud, ApplePay, iMessages, and other apps or access your stored data. If you have backed up your iPhone, your data should still be safe in the cloud. 

Poor call reception and Wi-Fi

You may experience slow data, difficulty connecting to Wi-Fi, and dropped calls after jailbreaking your phone. 

Data breaches

Jailbreaking gives the third-party apps you install much more control over your device than standard App Store apps. These unverified apps can steal and sell your data on the dark web, and you could become a victim of identity theft. Even worse, nefarious apps could steal your banking information and siphon all your funds before you know it.

More frequent crashes

The App Store does not approve of jailbroken apps. The company disallows any apps deemed unsafe. Apple vets all App Store apps to prevent any damage to the phone and software, and unapproved apps could cause your phone to crash more often.

Vulnerability to attacks

The most significant risk of jailbreaking your phone is that it exposes your device to cybersecurity attacks of all types. Once infected, you, in turn, could affect others in your network by passing on malware, ransomware, or viruses. 

The bottom line is that jailbreaking an iPhone just isn’t worth the risks. Not only do you not get to update the phone with improved features, security patches, and app updates, but your phone is also more vulnerable to risks. Plus, you will see a decrease in performance and reliability. Overall, there are plenty of apps on the App Store to suit most users, so you don’t need to jailbreak your phone for any reason. 

This is an independent publication, and it has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise approved by Apple Inc. or Google LLC. iPhone is a trademark of Apple Inc. Android is a trademark of Google LLC.

Dawna Roberts Dawna Roberts
Dawna has spent her entire career in web dev, cybersecurity, and IT. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Adobe, Airtable, Backblaze, Cyberleaf, Lifewire, and other online publications for the past ten years.