Teen hacker unlocks iPhone


Summary

A 17-year-old hacker has broken the lock that ties Apple's iPhone to AT&T's wireless network, freeing it for use on the networks of other carriers.

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George Hotz of Glen Rock, New Jersey, confirmed he had unlocked an iPhone and was using it on T-Mobile's network, the only major US carrier apart from AT&T that is compatible with the iPhone's cellular technology.

In a video posted to his blog, he holds an iPhone that displays "T-Mobile" as the carrier.

Use with overseas carriers

While the possibility of switching from AT&T to T-Mobile may not be a major development for US consumers, it opens up the iPhone for use on the networks of overseas carriers.

“That's the big thing," says Mr Hotz, in a phone interview from his home.

The phone, which combines an innovative touch-screen interface with the media-playing abilities of the iPod, is sold only in the US

Calls to AT&T and Apple for comment were not immediately returned. The companies had not been in touch with Mr Hotz, he says.

The hack, which Mr Hotz posted to his blog, is complicated and requires skill with both soldering and software.

It takes him about two hours to perform.

Commercial possibilities

Since the details are public, it seems likely that a small industry may spring up to buy US

iPhones, unlock them and send them overseas.

"That's exactly, like, what I don't want," Mr Hotz says. "I don't want people making money off this."

He said he wished he could make the instructions simpler, so users could modify the phones themselves.

"But that's the simplest I could make them," Mr Hotz says.

Next step, software

The next step, he says, would be for someone to develop a way to unlock the phone using only software.

The iPhone has already been made to work on overseas networks using another method, which involves copying information from the Subscriber Identity Module, a small card with a chip that identifies a subscriber to the cell-phone network.

The SIM-chip method does not require any soldering, but does requires special equipment, and it does not unlock the phone – each new SIM chip has to be reprogrammed for use on a particular iPhone.

Both hacks leave the iPhone's many functions, including a built-in camera and the ability to access Wi-Fi networks, intact.

The only thing that won't work is the "visual voicemail" feature, which shows voice messages as if they were incoming e-mail.

Since the details of both hacks are public, Apple may be able to modify the iPhone production line to make new phones invulnerable.

The company has said it plans to introduce the phone in Europe this year, but it has not set a date or identified carriers.

Sale on eBay

Mr Hotz himself spent about 500 hours on the project since the iPhone went on sale on June 29.

On Thursday, he put the unlocked iPhone up for sale on eBay, where the price was above $2,000 ($A2,440) midday Friday.

The model, with 4 gigabytes of memory, sells for $499 ($A610) new.

"Some of my friends think I wasted my summer but I think it was worth it," he told The Record of Bergen County, which reported Mr Hotz's hack.


A 17-year-old hacker has broken the lock that ties Apple's iPhone to AT&T's wireless network, freeing it for use on the networks of other carriers.

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George Hotz of Glen Rock, New Jersey, confirmed he had unlocked an iPhone and was using it on T-Mobile's network, the only major US carrier apart from AT&T that is compatible with the iPhone's cellular technology.

In a video posted to his blog, he holds an iPhone that displays "T-Mobile" as the carrier.

Use with overseas carriers

While the possibility of switching from AT&T to T-Mobile may not be a major development for US consumers, it opens up the iPhone for use on the networks of overseas carriers.

“That's the big thing," says Mr Hotz, in a phone interview from his home.

The phone, which combines an innovative touch-screen interface with the media-playing abilities of the iPod, is sold only in the US

Calls to AT&T and Apple for comment were not immediately returned. The companies had not been in touch with Mr Hotz, he says.

The hack, which Mr Hotz posted to his blog, is complicated and requires skill with both soldering and software.

It takes him about two hours to perform.

Commercial possibilities

Since the details are public, it seems likely that a small industry may spring up to buy US

iPhones, unlock them and send them overseas.

"That's exactly, like, what I don't want," Mr Hotz says. "I don't want people making money off this."

He said he wished he could make the instructions simpler, so users could modify the phones themselves.

"But that's the simplest I could make them," Mr Hotz says.

Next step, software

The next step, he says, would be for someone to develop a way to unlock the phone using only software.

The iPhone has already been made to work on overseas networks using another method, which involves copying information from the Subscriber Identity Module, a small card with a chip that identifies a subscriber to the cell-phone network.

The SIM-chip method does not require any soldering, but does requires special equipment, and it does not unlock the phone – each new SIM chip has to be reprogrammed for use on a particular iPhone.

Both hacks leave the iPhone's many functions, including a built-in camera and the ability to access Wi-Fi networks, intact.

The only thing that won't work is the "visual voicemail" feature, which shows voice messages as if they were incoming e-mail.

Since the details of both hacks are public, Apple may be able to modify the iPhone production line to make new phones invulnerable.

The company has said it plans to introduce the phone in Europe this year, but it has not set a date or identified carriers.

Sale on eBay

Mr Hotz himself spent about 500 hours on the project since the iPhone went on sale on June 29.

On Thursday, he put the unlocked iPhone up for sale on eBay, where the price was above $2,000 ($A2,440) midday Friday.

The model, with 4 gigabytes of memory, sells for $499 ($A610) new.

"Some of my friends think I wasted my summer but I think it was worth it," he told The Record of Bergen County, which reported Mr Hotz's hack.