Crackulous and the App-ocalypse

If you own an iPhone, you have no doubt heard of a process called ‘Jailbreak’ which opens up a load of things on your device, specifically the ability to install applications which are not available on the official AppStore and also the ability to install ‘cracked’ applications (after installing and running other processes which I will not go over here) which some people have bought, then ‘cracked’ and made available to download from various places. These ‘cracked’ files always have a .ipa file extension (which is actually a zip file with a different extension).

crackulous-logoThe tools and methods to strip applications of the various layers of security around them, ensuring that they are downloaded and installed via iTunes/Appstore, were only available to a relatively few amount of hackers. Yesterday, the developer of these tools made ‘Crackulous’ available.

The ‘APP-OCALYPSE’ has begun. For now…

Crackulous is an application which is easily installed on ‘Jailbroken’ iPhones through the ‘Cydia/’ application repository. It provides a (mind-bogglingly easy) one-click process to crack an application you already have PAID FOR, installed AND ALREADY RUN on your iPhone. After running the process, stripping the app you paid for of it’s security layers, it makes it possible for you to copy that .ipa file from your device and then give it to your buddies or upload it to one of the ever-increasing amount of free filehosts out there for others to download.

As Gizmodo says, this is “great news for cheapskates, terrible for independent developers trying to make a living.”

UPDATE: Amusingly, a new user of Twitter and Digg called ‘Crackulous’ is posting everywhere saying that the Crackulous app is a fake and steals keystrokes and passwords and that you should buy his ‘real’ version for $10. Now THAT’S a scam! It seems he has also had a run in with Adam from Gizmodo too! [insert ROFL here]

Ars Technica has more on the “poetic justice” at play here.

There appears to be a little confusion about what Crackulous actually does. ‘Electronic Pulp’ reports that “If you want to install paid iPhone apps on your iPhone without having to pay for it, then I guess Crackulous is for you.” This is not the case. People with Jailbroken devices do not need to do this. [update: they have now corrected this info]. Crunchgear has a short post on this too.

If I want to pay good money to buy an application through Apple, giving the developer who created it some of that money, I could, if I wanted, go and make that available to others to have for free. I don’t want to do that (ie: give away things I paid for). Oddly, many people do.

So, why am I writing this?

argh1I have been thinking of learning how to create iPhone applications, got a few ideas for some useful (and not so useful) apps and have gone and become a registered developer, got the tools and started going through various tutorials I have found out here on the web. I’ve never tried to write the language required before. It’s quite a steep learning curve for me. It will take a lot of time and effort to get where I want to get with this. But I shall persevere.

Better the devil you know.

When I build web sites and applications, I ALWAYS find myself spending a LOT of time creating all the required loops of security required to make sure it doesn’t ‘break’. Or more specifically, make sure that I have done all that is required to try to stop people deliberately ‘breaking/hacking’ it. Often, the only way of learning how to prevent ‘breakage/hacking’ is to learn a certain amount about how people go about ‘breaking’ your systems, so you can at least put some level of security on there. It’s never perfect.

Since getting myself a legitimately ‘unlocked’ iPhone (meaning I can use any SIM card from any carrier without breaking anything using something called ‘yellowsn0w’) from Optus while in Australia (prepaid), I have indeed entered into some research into the world of the ‘Jailbreak’ to see how all this works and what is going on. Initially, this was so I could record video on my iPhone using an application called ‘Cycorder’ (ONLY available to Jailbroken iPhones : you can’t get it through the official AppStore!) – as a complete gadget freak, owning many mobile devices with cameras, I INSIST on the ability to record video these days – I fully expect the next generation iPhone to have this built-in. The Nokia N95 I own has an excellent camera for photos and video which I can easily upload or email to various places to publish. I am utterly gobsmacked by the sheer amount of cracked apps out there.

Back to the topic… sorry…

Now, I wonder what effect all this cracking of apps is going to have on the official developer market, and specifically the app developers themselves. I wonder what actual percentage of iPhone owners go through the bother (and fear of ‘bricking’ the device) of Jailbreaking their beloved iPhones. Is it significant enough to put me off learning how to build apps and try to make a little bit of money in the process? It might be.

I expect there are going to be a lot of legitimate app developers out there up in arms about I expect many of them will try to sue Apple for not providing adequate security for their app and the investment they put in to them. Apple will do doubt attempt to patch the holes and make it even harder to Jailbreak the iPhone and try to protect the 30% they scrape off official app purchases. The cat and mouse game will NEVER end. It never does.

I also expect there to be a huge increase in the amount of cracked apps out there now the process is not a ‘dark art’, making it easy for others to have applications for ‘free’ by ‘stealing’ them and not being forced into putting money in the pockets of the developer.

One ‘argument’ for this kind of activity is that Apple do not provide an easy way for developers to provide a tryout/demo of their applications (though they could create a free version with limited functionality and a full paid version) – so some people take it upon themselves to provide the cracked apps and say “If you really like the app, then buy it” – I really can’t see that happening much, to be honest, though some say that piracy can actually increase software sales.

Piracy of software has ALWAYS happened. I would go as far to say that the amount of piracy of a system or piece of software is directly proportionate to the amount of security put around it. Apple are notorious for ‘locking down’ their devices in an attempt to stop people cracking them open, but the effect that has is that they’re a massive target for the hackers out there who want to get in to them, for various reasons.

Think Different.

ipadlockI wonder what Apple will do about all this. Will they ever truly ‘open’ the devices and make it easy for people create and distribute apps without going through the existing rigmarole and costs? If I want to build an application for the iPhone and have it on the iTunes AppStore, I have to pay Apple US$99 – so, I’d need to sell at least 100 copies of my app at 99cents to get my money back. The trouble is, now all it takes is for one person to buy it, then crack it and then ‘share’ it. Sure, not *everyone* goes through the various risks in cracking, downloading and installing ‘illegitimate’ apps, but now I expect the amount to increase quite considerably. Imagine if there was an equivalent to for desktop apps. A simple one-click way to strip security from popular desktop apps like Office, Photoshop, FinalCut, etc, etc. (Yes, just about every application ever created has been cracked already, but imagine if it was easy enough for anyone who can click a button)

For now, I’m going to put my application idea on hold and wait until the dust settles on all this and see what Apple does. I am glad I haven’t started building it yet. I think things are about to be different from now on.

What do you think will happen? I expect there to be a lot of discussion about all this over the next few weeks.

Here endeth my $0.99