Cydia, Onetime Hotspot for Apple Jailbreakers, Shuts Down Purchasing Functions

Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez (AP)

Cydia, a store for applications that run on jailbroken iPhones and other Apple devices, is shutting down the ability to buy and sell apps on its platform, TechCrunch reported on Saturday.

In a Reddit post, Cydia founder Jay “Saurik” Freeman said he had initially planned to shut the entire store after years of frustration running it, but had bumped up the timetable after a serious security issue was discovered:

The reality is that I wanted to just shut down the Cydia Store entirely before the end of the year, and was considering moving the timetable up after receiving the report (to this weekend); this service loses me money and is not something I have any passion to maintain: it was a critical component of a healthy ecosystem, and for a while it helped fund a small staff of people to maintain the ecosystem, but it came at great cost to my sanity and led lots of people to irrationally hate me due to what amounted to a purposeful misunderstanding of how profit vs. revenue works.

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The bug in question “let someone buy apps through your account if you were logged in and browsing untrusted app repositories,” per Engadget. But Freeman said the bug only impacted a small number of users, and it looks like the decision was made prior to its discovery. Freeman wrote in the post that while he had previously been able to hire staff to help maintain Cydia, revenues have declined to the point where he is now funding hosting out of his own pocket.

Closing the purchasing functions does not affect the ability to download apps that have previously been purchased, or access them through third-party repositories, TechCrunch noted.

Cydia launched a decade ago and, in its heyday, was a major destination for users looking to bypass Apple’s oppressive walled garden and once made millions in revenue a year. As Engadget noted, the number of features natively supported on iOS has grown significantly since then, including ones that mimic popular jailbreaking functions, leaving fewer incentives for users to install. Just as importantly, Apple has invested a lot of time and effort into finding and destroying the security holes that make installing unauthorized software possible (iOS 11 went months without a functional, publicly released jailbreak). Many former jailbreakers have started selling their findings or actually went to work for Apple itself, Motherboard noted last year:

The increased security measures Apple has taken haven’t just made it harder to get a full jailbreak, which now requires a chain of hard-to-find bugs. It also made jailbreaks, and the bugs and exploits that underlie them, too valuable to give up for free—or even to give to Apple for thousands of dollars.

Last year, Apple’s head of security and jailbreak-killer-in-chief, Ivan Krstić, boasted about the strength of iOS’s defenses, pointing to the fact that jailbreaks these days require “between five and ten distinct vulnerabilities in order to be able to defeat platform security mechanisms.”

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Freeman told Motherboard at that time that jailbreaks used to work for months on end, while now they tend to have a much shorter lifespan and are terminated almost immediately. He even went so far as to say he didn’t recommend jailbreaking phones anymore, as it exposes users to potential security risks and the payoff just isn’t there anymore.

“It used to be that you got killer features that almost were the reason you owned the phone,” Freeman told Motherboard. “And now you get a small minor modification.”

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As 9to5Mac noted, many developers on the platform “have moved away from using the Cydia Store for purchases,” so it may have little impact on them.

While the times have changed, Apple’s walled garden has not: Though it is legal to jailbreak devices in the U.S., the tech giant has repeatedly warned against it and maintains that doing so could void device warranties. Its prohibition on adult content on the App Store has remained intact—and has reportedly bled over into other Apple projects like its upcoming streaming service—and it’s been happy to play ball with state censors in China, who have had apps that aid users in avoiding government censorship removed from the Chinese App Store.

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According to TechCrunch, Freeman plans on making a more formal announcement about the shift next week.

[TechCrunch]

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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post