A rare interview with famous iOS hacker pod2g

Me showing pod2g

I met pod2g for the first time a few months ago at JailbreakCon. Before meeting him, I was a bit nervous because the man was already a legend in the jailbreak community. Besides his accomplishments, all I knew about Cyril (his real name) was that, like me, he was French.

Over the course of 4 days, Cyril and I became friends and learned about each other. We didn’t talk much about jailbreaking. Instead, we were just having casual talks about everything and just about anything. During that time, I was able to see Cyril interact with other people. Despite the fact that he is as close as it gets to gaining the rock star status, Cyril was incredibly humble, friendly, and accessible to everyone who would walk by to talk to him.

Cyril and I have stayed in touch ever since, exchanging a few messages here and there, checking out each other’s projects. Today, he agrees to answer a few questions for iDownloadBlog readers in this rare interview…

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who are you? What do you do for a living? Are you married, kids, etc?

My name is Cyril, I’m 32, I have two kids, not married. I am a Project Manager for a software company, but I’m taking a sabbatical leave for a few months. I’m currently in the process of creating my software and security research company. By the way, I’m looking for projects and clients to offer either my research, consulting, or training skills.

What kind of music do you listen to these days?

I’m a fan of Muse, Linkin Park, and more recently C2C.

What do you do when you’re not behind your computer? Do you have hobbies or passions?

I go out and have beers with friends. I like going to the movie. I’m there at least every other week. Besides that, I watch quite a few TV series. I love House MD and the Mentalist.

Can you walk us through a typical day in pod2g’s life?

These last few months, a typical day is: wake up, development research, lunch, software development, dinner, communication, software development until 3am. In short, 99% of work.

How did you start coding and hacking?

I started programming very early. At 5, I would copy BASIC programs from one of my father’s books on my ZX 81. Then I started writing my own programs, small games, applications, etc.

My best work was done on Atari ST where I wrote GF BASIC technical demos, and 68k assembler (for the purists out there: overscans, rasters, roto-zoom, etc…).

Why do you now work on iOS rather than another platform?

I’m an Apple fan, whether it is about iOS devices or desktop machines. I own a MacBook Pro and an iMac.

iOS is a watered down version of OS X, but everything is in there. It’s the same pleasure to have a UNIX kernel. When jailbroken, it gives you access to all the GNU and open source classics. Also, the source code of the XNU kernel is available online, and everyone can read the code and look for potential exploits. It gives a very high level of safety and reliability. Finding breaches and exploiting them becomes an important challenge, highly recognized in the industry.

iOS also has the largest and highest quality catalogue of mobile applications, with the app review process only increasing the quality level. The fact that Apple controls both the hardware and software limits market fragmentation. Most users have the latest version of iOS installed, and many of them usually get the latest hardware at some point.

We’re very far from the economic model of Android where prices rule the market instead of quality. Fragmentation is at every level of Android: OS version, hardware, manufacturers. This is a real nightmare for developers and security researchers.

The benefit of working on iOS is the guarantee that your work will reach a larger population and will be sustained for a few years.

What I can say regarding the Cydia ecosystem is that there are many talented developers (because it’s a real challenge to modify a system without having access to its source code), some tweaks are very clever, and there are countless themes and graphic mods.

This is not an accident if many tweak ideas are picked up and used in iOS and Android.

If I wanted to be the next pod2g, what advice would you give me?

First, this is not given to anyone. You must have some solid skills in development, but also in the understanding of how modern operating systems work. To start, you must read numerous books and white papers about the topic. The most interesting ones about hacking iOS are:

Only once you have assimilated the notions explained in these books will you be able to start working on jailbreaking.

The goal isn’t success. The goal is to help the community develop tools.

The secret is passion.

How many iOS devices do you own?

iPod touch 3rd Gen, iPod touch 4th Gen, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad 2, and iPad 3.

Are they all jailbroken?

All my devices are jailbroken except for the ones I use daily (iPhone 4S, and iPad 3). These two aren’t jailbroken for two reasons:
to force me to work on the iOS 6 jailbreak and because I am currently developing an official application, I want to be able to test it in a stock configuration

Do you use many jailbreak apps? What are your favorites?

I use few of them but here is my list of must-haves:

  • OpenSSH: to easily access the iPhone file system and for security research
  • SBSettings: for quick access to the iPhone settings
  • Barrel: I love the geekiness of it. Everyone knows your iPhone is jailbroken when you use it.
  • IntelliScreenX: so I can have access to my social network at the slide of a finger. It’s a beautiful app!
  • 5 icons dock: to add Twitter without moving stock icons in the dock

Where do you see the jailbreak community in 12 months? Are we on the right track or have we hit a wall?

I’m very confident about the next 6 months. I honestly believe that iOS 6 will be jailbroken and that developers will keep coming up with more quality apps. Discussions about future tweaks during JailbreakCon have opened new doors. Creativity won’t stop.

Regarding future iOS versions, I don’t really know what to think. I believe Apple will make it harder and harder to find and develop jailbreaks in a timely manner.

My message to Apple is the following: why not stop the fight and let users install unsigned applications, just like it is possible on OS X? It could be done the right way to let people install tweaks while making sure piracy is limited.

I am convinced that it would allow iOS to gain market shares over Android.

What’s the question you’re asked the most? How do you usually answer it?

Besides questions about the release of the next jailbreak, I’m often asked about how to help or how to start jailbreaking. My answer is always the same: read the iOS Hacker’s Handbook. The problem is that people don’t really realize how hard it is. They think it’s as easy as installing something on the device and done.

Some hackers sell their exploits. Have you ever thought about working for profits? Why or why not?

My answer is linked to the next question. My goal is to reach as many people as possible with my work. That’s what drives me! Releasing a paid jailbreak would make it implode on its own, making it much less interesting to everyone.

If money is not you source of motivation, what drives you?

What drives me is mass market. Reaching the largest amount of people with a software. What can be more motivating than a jailbreak downloaded millions of times?

It seems you are the one person mainly responsible for the latest jailbreak although this jailbreak has been labeled as a release from the Chronic Dev Team. Do you sometimes feel like someone is stealing your show?

The Chronic Dev Team hasn’t much to do with the last two jailbreaks. The people who helped the most are, by alphabetical order: @MuscleNerd, @pimskeks, @planetbeing, and @saurik.

However, the Chronic Dev Team has a good infrastructure to offer (ie. web servers, IRC, etc). This allowed for a good team work and a release of the jailbreak under ideal conditions.

The members of this team are my friends, and it is thanks to our past collaboration that I was able to get the necessary knowledge. We are all in good terms and this is the reason why I wanted to share the stage with them.

I’ll admit that when I hear that the jailbreak was released by the Chronic Dev Team, it makes me jump off my seat, and it is the reason why I kinda stepped away from it these last few months.

What do you think about i0nic always teasing us with a new jailbreak that he won’t release to the public?

It’s quite depressing. He’s having fun creating trolls. On the other end, I believe it helps him strengthen his business. I can understand both sides.

You recently said you were not working on the iOS 6 jailbreak. What would make you change your mind?

There is a big chance I change my mind. I actually spent a few hours on it since WWJC, but I still don’t have enough time to work on it.

Working with @planetbeing motivates me a lot. He’s always very resourceful and he raises the bar.

It seems that the entire community is relying on you and a handful of other hackers. Can you feel a pressure from jailbreak users?

Yes I can feel a strong pressure, but I believe most of my followers understand that working on a jailbreak isn’t our full-time job and that we do our best to conciliate work life, personal life, and work on a jailbreak.

I often receive messages on Twitter telling me to slow down, to take our time, and maybe wait for iOS 6.1, etc…

During JailbreakCon, you mentioned that there aren’t enough hackers working on finding exploits. How do you think the community could “recruit” hackers? How to focus efforts and be sure that everybody is working together?

I thought about it a lot during JailbreakCon. Recruiting people to help is easier said than done, because these people must:

  • be crazy about iOS and OS X
  • be talented hackers
  • have time to dedicate to the task
  • not be part of a security firm, or else the work could be used for other ends
  • be loyal and not be looking for fame, because there is a risk to leak information that Apple could use to fix holes before the release of the jailbreak

I think the best spot to find these people is at HITB for example, because the people attending this kind of conference are definitely talented.

I have already created an IRC channel where I will invite people I’ll find interesting.

All eyes are currently on you. You have a profile that must be of interest to many companies, including Apple. Has Apple ever offered you a job? Would you be interested in working for Apple (or any other large company), or would you rather be independent?

I have been in discussions with Apple several times over a potential job there, but in reality, it won’t be possible. I want to stay in France so I can be close to my family and friends, and as a business owner, working for Apple would be against my best interests. We’ll see. 2013 will be a very important year for me professionally speaking.

Chpwn recently showed off a jailbroken iPhone 5 running iOS 6. Can you tell us what he did? Is it a good starting point for an iOS 6 jailbreak?

In short, this “jailbreak” is based on a developer certificate. It doesn’t alter the kernel allowing for a real, full jailbreak, which is why we call it a “failbreak”. It’s a very good start because it allows security researchers to have access to the file system, to modify any iOS file, and execute unsigned code at the root level. On the other end, this failbreak can’t be used as a public jailbreak.

If you’re not working on a jailbreak, can you tell us more about what you’re doing these days?

As I mentioned above, I don’t have much time because I am in the process of creating a company, and I’m actively working on a software. Since I have taken a sabbatical, my future revenues depend on this work, which is why I’m dedicating 100% of my time to it.

Is there anything you’d like to add? Maybe you have a message for someone?

I have two messages.

The first one is to my followers, whom I want to thank for their patience and their support. I can’t guarantee that I will work on a jailbreak in the next few days, but as soon as I have time on my hands, I’ll be back.

The second message is to Apple, because I was disappointed about the iPhone, which has no significant added value compared to the iPhone 4S, especially in France where there is no 4G LTE support. I can’t find the innovation in this product that I was able to find in previous models. You have to take risks, add new features while improving interactivity. I’m worried about the future, especially with this closed OS and pressure coming from Android.

Note: this interview was conducted in French and translated by myself (download French version). I tried to keep the spirit of the original version as much as I could. Cyril got to look at the translation and approved it.