Apple captures jailbreaker Comex, Borgs him into an intern

Three-time cracker of iOS, maker of JailbreakMe app, will start work soon at Apple

New Apple CEO Tim Cook is already going around telling people none of the good things about Apple will change after the departure of CEO/Visionary/Cult Leader Steve Jobs.

Reuters went so far as to theorize he'll stay, effectively, the COO, since Jobs will stay around as executive chairman – a gig that won't put him in day-to-day charge of the company, but won't give Cook much of a chance to do the job on his own, either.

Some things may already have changed at the famously secretive and vindictive Apple, though.

Rather than harassing, prosecuting and siccing storm troopers on Comex – the hacker who figured out how to jailbreak his own iOS devices, then launched a site to make it simple for everyone else, too, Apple just took the outlaw on as an intern, according to a story in Slashgear and Comex' own admission on Twitter.

The hacker is 19-year-old Nicholas Allegra, a Brown University student from Chappaqua, NY who has written and distributed three sequential versions of JailbreakMe – an app that cracks Apple's security on the iPhone, iPad and iTouch to let users install any software they want, rather than only apps Apple has approved through iTunes.

Apple isn't thrilled. After the latest version of JailbreakMe came out, Apple took only nine days to patch the hole in iOS the app exploited.

Almost two million people have downloaded and used it anyway.

JailbreakMe is more than just a cool hack, it's a huge hurdle for anyone to clear once, let alone three times, according to Forbes' quote from Charlie Miller, the former NSA network exploitation analyst who was the first to crack an iPhone in 2007.

Apple's OS code uses code-signing locks to prevent any software not carrying a certification that it was written by the company from running on Apple machines. Cracking it means not only getting into the code, but discovering the commands that created the lockdown and using them to eliminate it.

"I didn't think anyone would be able to do what he's done for years," Miller told Forbes.

It's not the first time Apple has hired a jailbreaker as an intern. Earlier this year MacRumors reported that Apple gave a summer intern slot to Peter Hajas, who developed a popular jailbreak-notification app called MobileNotifier.

The only reason Allegra gave for going to work for the empire whose restrictions he'd been working to undermine for so long was that working on JailbreakMe had been "really, really fun, but it's also been a while and I've been getting bored."

Apple isn't the only company getting rid of the chief source of security headaches by hiring them.

Last week Samsung hired Steve Kondik, whose CyanogenMod software, which cracks and modifies Android smartphones, and is the most popular of a growing category Google wishes would just disappear.

Samsung didn't say what Kondik would be doing; Kondik only tweeted that he would be working to make Android "more awesome"

If it's smart, Apple will have Comex working to make iOS "more un-jailbreakable."

Whether it's willing to take the gamble that teaching Comex more about iOS security would encourage him to leave Apple and continue making jailbreaking products, is a question only Tim Cook can answer – or could, if he weren't tied up on a phone call with Steve every minute of every day.

At Apple, "freedom" is a relative term.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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