Apple update disables unlocked iPhones

Don’t say you weren’t warned. After cautioning customers earlier this week that unlocked iPhones may be disabled when installing future Apple software updates, the company on Thursday made good on its warning.

Two iPhones in the Macworld offices that had the SIM hacks applied to them were disabled after installing iPhone Update 1.1.1. The update process went through without a hitch, however, when the phone restarted an activation message appeared that said, “Insert an unlocked and valid SIM to activate iPhone.”

A similar message appeared in iTunes. A note saying the SIM card was not valid and to insert a valid SIM card greeted the user.

SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards contain account information and are used to authenticate devices on certain types of mobile networks. Unlocked iPhones can use SIM cards from non-AT&T networks.

Security researcher Tom Ferris said the new software disabled a phone that had been unlocked using the open-source anySIM software in order to work on T-Mobile USA’s wireless network. “It kept saying ‘unsupported SIM card,’ even with the AT&T SIM card in it,” he said. “You can turn the phone off or on, but we just can’t figure out how to get past this ‘SIM card not supported,’” he said.

Users also could not navigate through the iPhone’s menus. The “Slide for Emergency” slider is the only thing available after installing the update. This allows customers to make emergency calls only.

The update also appears to disable the Jailbreak hack which allows users to install unsupported software on the iPhone, Ferris said. After the 1.1.1 patch was installed it wiped out all of the third-party applications he had installed on a second iPhone, he said.

Apple warned customers on Monday that unlocked iPhones may become inoperable. “Apple has discovered that many of the unauthorized iPhone unlocking programs available on the Internet cause irreparable damage to the iPhone’s software, which will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed,” the company said in a statement.

Updated at 7:45 p.m. ET to incorporate comments from security researcher Tom Ferris.

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