On Saturday, the South San Francisco Conference Center welcomed developers and techies from around the country for the first ever Jailbreakcon. The conference allowed hackers to talk shop about breaking into Apple products—at a venue just half an hour from the tech company’s headquarters, no less.
The event’s first incarnation, MyGreatFest, happened last year in London. The organizers chose South City this year because of its convenience for the expected attendants, many of whom work in the tech industry in the Bay Area.
“This is the only conference for this specific community,” said Jay Freeman, a pillar of the jailbreak community and the creator of Cydia, the main store that sells apps for hacked iOS devices.
Legends of hackerdom spoke about past successes in jailbreaking iPhones, iPads and iPod touches in order to have full control over the devices and to allow users to download apps that Apple has not approved.
Hacks can involve anything from tweaking the appearance of date and time on an iPhone, to installing entirely new apps or changing the number of apps that can appear on the dock at the bottom of the screen.
As Apple products have become increasingly ubiquitous, and popular, the jailbreaking community has grown in numbers and ability.
Freeman estimated that between 6 and 12% of Apple products are currently hacked. He said that each time Apple releases a major product, like the iPhone 5 in late September, that percentage drops dramatically as consumers upgrade to the new operating system and hackers scramble to catch up to the new product.
By this logic, the percentage of iOS products that are hacked is currently decreasing, but is likely to increase again in the near future with the product.
“None of this has been proven illegal,” Freemen said at the conference. iPhone hacks were officially pardoned from legal challenges beginning in 2010, though Apple continues to reserve the right to cancel warranties if a phone has been jailbroken.
Freeman said that he wouldn’t be surprised if an Apple employee were in the crowd on Saturday either to report back to the company or for their personal interest.
Traditionally, the legal gray area of the hacking scene has required its players to maintain an element of secrecy. Many jailbreakers have gone by alternate names, like pimskeks, ih8sn0w or pod2g. But now, more so than in the early days of hacking, jailbreakers use their real names. Some do so in the hopes of getting hired by the actual companies they're hacking.
Hackers famous in the jailbreaking community who were hired after proving their technical chops include George Hotz, the first person to jailbreak an iPhone, whom Facebook hired last year. TechCrunch reported last year that Peter Hajas, who hacked an alternative version of push notifications, was hired by Apple.
Over 13 members of the jailbreak community spoke at the conference.
“I’m a little disappointed because nothing really that new has been said today,” a developer and Wii hacker told Patch. There was one new announcement Saturday morning, however.
User experience designer Josh Tucker announced that he and a fellow developer had released a new “tweak” that changes push notifications on iPads. The tweak is called Emblem, and will soon be available for $1.99 in the Cydia marketplace, for jailbroken iPads.
An iOS security researcher and hacker known as pod2g also spoke at Saturday's event. He said that he was currently working on the iOS 6 jailbreak. He let the crowd of about 150 people at the conference center know that he was looking for new hackers to help with the project.
“Finding these people is quite complicated because they are very skilled and special people,” he said. “But maybe we’ll find something.”