Why we may never see a jailbreak for iOS 7 on the iPhone and iPad

Despite iOS 7 being the most successful mobile OS update ever, there’s still one question that everyone’s asking: When can we expect to download an iOS 7 jailbreak for the iPhone and iPad? This is a tricky question with a tricky combination of possible answers.

If you have an iPhone 4, there is already a preliminary jailbreak for iOS 7, and an early port of Cydia – but neither of them are ready to use or available to download. If you own a newer iDevice, though, such as the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, iPad, or iPad mini (anything with the A5 SoC or newer), there is every chance that you will never be able to download an iOS 7 jailbreak.

Before we dive in and discuss why there’s no iOS 7 jailbreak for newer iDevices, and why there may never be an untethered jailbreak, we should discuss the issue of websites purporting to provide an iOS 7 jailbreak. All of these websites are fakes or scams. When (or indeed if) iOS 7 is eventually jailbroken on the iPhone 4S, 5, 5S, 5C, iPad, and iPad mini, we will update this story to let you know. Until then, you should avoid any and all websites offering to jailbreak your iOS 7 device.

Now, let’s jump into some low-level details of iOS, iPhone, and iPad jailbreaking, and discuss when we’ll see a Redsn0w or Evasi0n jailbreak for download.

Finding an exploit

Irrespective of the device or operating system – Windows PCs, Android smartphones, iOS tablets – every jailbreak is predicated on finding an exploit. An exploit is simply a bug or other unintended vulnerability that you can take advantage of.

Sometimes an exploit is small, and only allows for perhaps a tethered jailbreak or some other minor boost in functionality. However, if the exploit is large enough that you can gain complete, persistent root access to the lowest levels of the device, it becomes possible to create an untethered jailbreak.

Finding a large enough exploit to create an untethered jailbreak is really, really hard. In general, the hackers – such as Comex, Geohot, the iPhone Dev Team, or Evad3rs – need to find a bug or vulnerability in the software (iOS, boot ROM), the hardware (the A4/5/6/7 SoC), or ideally both. Usually these bugs and vulnerabilities are discovered with very low-level tools, such as serial port debugging (pictured below).

Hacking in general, and security research in specific, is a painstaking and intensive task. Suffice it to say that finding exploits is hard, and requires a special kind of mind to even know where to start, let alone to carry it through to completion.

iOS 7 jailbreak

There is a constant battle between Apple and jailbreakers. With each new version of iOS and the hardware inside the iDevices (primarily the SoC), Apple improves its defences against jailbreaking. Furthermore, unless hackers can find a really low-level exploit, Apple can easily patch the hole by releasing a new version of iOS – which is exactly what happened with the Evasi0n and Redsn0w jailbreaks with iOS 6.1.3.

In fact, as it stands, there is no jailbreak for devices running iOS 6.1.4 (the latest version of iOS 6) or iOS 7, and no jailbreak for any device with the A5, A6, or A7 SoC and software later than iOS 6.1.2. There hasn’t been a really solid jailbreak since the iPhone 4’s boot ROM was properly exploited. There have been some temporary jailbreaks, and some tethered jailbreaks, but for the most part it feels like Apple has the upper hand.

Still, hacking groups like Evad3rs (makers of Evasi0n) have taken to Twitter and other public forums to say that an iOS 7 jailbreak is in the works – though, unlike iOS 6 which was jailbroken on release day, it sounds like we’ll be waiting at least a few months for an iOS 7 jailbreak across all iDevices.

“Being more and more confident about an iOS 7 public jailbreak ;-) [ that does not mean soon ],” said Pod2g.

“Jailbreak for iOS 7 5s 5c coming around 6 months,” said 4s_pois0n, another Apple hacker.

In all likelihood, if you own an iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, or iPhone 5C, you will be waiting months for an iOS 7 jailbreak. If you have an iPhone 5, your only real option for jailbreaking is to stick with iOS 6.1.2 and the Evasi0n or Redsn0w jailbreaks. If you have an iPhone 5S or iPhone 5C, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s never a reliable untethered jailbreak for iOS 7. Even if an exploit can be found, which is unlikely given the dearth of exploits in iOS 6 and the brand new A7 SoC in the iPhone 5S, Apple will almost certainly be able to patch it.

Sadly enough, if you really want to jailbreak iOS 7, getting your hands on a three-year-old iPhone 4 with an exploitable boot ROM is probably your best bet.

For more on iOS 7, see our article on whether it's worth upgrading your iPhone or iPad to iOS 7, and our guide to improving the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5's battery life under iOS 7.