iOS 11
A recent exploit discovered by Google may open up jailbreak of iOS 11. JÉSHOOTS/Pexels

The discovery of an exploit in Apple’s mobile operating system iOS by a Google researcher and release of a new tool for security researchers could open up the possibility of a jailbreak version of iOS 11.

Ian Beer, a bug hunter who works for Google Project Zero—the company’s team dedicated to discovering vulnerability and bugs in software— published a tool Monday that will help researchers search for issues in iOS 11.1.2, a recent version of Apple’s operating system for iPhones and iPads.

According to Beer, the tool enables researchers to access a kernel vulnerability that was first disclosed to Apple in October. The tool should work on all iOS devices, though Beer said he only tested it on the iPhone 7, iPhone 6s and iPod Touch 6G. Still, he said additional support should be easy to add.

In addition to releasing the tool that will allow users to debug the iOS kernel—the core of the operating system, which is often inaccessible for users without a hack—Beer also detailed the exploit that hack jailbreakers salivating.

The exploit released by Beer should enable the ability to jailbreak iOS 11.1.2. Jailbreaking effectively removes the restrictions placed by Apple on how the operating system can be used and allows for unfettered access to the device.

At the technical level, jailbreaking is the process of installing modified set of kernel patches that overrules the restrictive rules of Apple and allows the user to run apps and code that has not been signed by Apple or Apple-approved developers.

Jailbreaking a device can open it up to modifications that would otherwise be unavailable. Users with a jailbroken device can change the user interface, install tweaks and other changes that would otherwise not be available and download apps from third-party app makers that are not available through Apple’s official App Store.

Jailbreaking also opens the user up to a lot of risks. Because apps and other services installed on the device do not require an official signature from Apple guaranteeing its validity and safety, jailbroken devices are exposed to a whole world of malicious software and other attacks that would be mitigated by running an official version of iOS.

There is an irony to the fact that Google might be responsible for releasing an exploit that would make possible a jailbroken version of iOS 11.1.2. The companies are direct competitors in the mobile world, with Google’s Android generally considered to be more open to modification while Apple’s iOS is considered to be safer.

However, it makes sense that Google would disclose the discovery of such an exploit. Given the popularity of the iPhone and iPad, it could affect a large amount of users and could be used in a malicious way if not addressed.

The release of the bug is not intended to allow users to create a jailbreak for iOS 11, even if that may result from the disclosure. Instead, the publication of the exploit was intended to allow researchers to search and find other potential vulnerabilities and report them in order to make the operating system safer.

Still, the disclosure opens up the possibility of a major development for modders who have been waiting for the ability to jailbreak their iOS device while enjoying a more recent version of the operating system.