Meet The 19 Year Old Jailbreaker Who Keeps Apple’s iOS Engineers Terrified

Meet The 19 Year Old Jailbreaker Who Keeps Apple’s iOS Engineers Terrified

If you have the slightest interest in jailbreaking iOS devices, then I’m sure you’ve heard of Comex, the genius behind JailbreakMe 3.0 and an eminent member of the jailbreaking community. Despite keeping any personal details about his private life a secret since he began cracking Apple’s gadgets, Comex reveals his real name, his age, and what he’s up to in his first interview.

After digging through Facebook, Twitter and the Brown Directory, Forbes managed to track Comex (@c0mex) down for an interview. His real name is Nicholas Allegra, he’s 19 and he lives with his parents in Chappaqua, New York. He’s been on leave from Brown University since last winter, looking for an internship, and in his spare time he likes to find exploits in Apple’s seemingly secure iOS source code — which he says isn’t difficult:

“It feels like editing an English paper. You just go through and look for errors. I don’t know why I seem to be so effective at it.”

Comex has been behind the last two JailbreakMe exploits — a tool which hacks an iOS device through its mobile Safari web browser in seconds without the need for a computer. A tool so popular that in the 24 hours that followed the launch of its third iteration in July, over one million people took advantage of the hack.

Charlie Miller is a former network exploitation analyst for the National Security Agency, and the first person to successfully hack one of Apple’s iPhones back in 2007. He told Forbes how impressed he was with Comex’ work:

“I didn’t think anyone would be able to do what he’s done for years. Now it’s been done by some kid we had never even heard of. He’s totally blown me away.”

Despite Apple’s growing list of attempts to kill the hacks developed by Comex, he remains a thorn in the side of the Cupertino company. What’s most impressive is that his work has been compared to that of Stuxnet:

Dino Dai Zovi, co-author of the Mac Hacker’s Handbook, says JailbreakMe’s sophistication is on par with that of Stuxnet, a worm thought to have been designed by the Israeli or U.S. government to infect Iran’s nuclear facilities. He compares Allegra’s skills to the state-sponsored intruders that plague corporations and governments, what the cybersecurity industry calls “advanced-persistent threat” hackers: “He’s probably five years ahead of them,” says Dai Zovi.

It’s no surprise, however, that Comex — who calls himself an Apple fanboy and regards Android devices as “the enemy” — knows his stuff. He taught himself the Visual Basic programming language by the time he was 9.

“By the time I took a computer science class in high school, I already knew everything.”

Despite his love for the iPhone, Comex is concerned about its flaws. It seems the device may not be as secure as many of us believe it to be:

Allegra admits that technically, there’s little difference between jailbreaking phones and hacking them for more malicious ends. “It’s scary,” he says. “I use the same phone as everyone else, and it’s totally insecure.”

Comex’ ability to seek out vulnerabilities in Apple’s iOS source code makes me wonder whether that internship he’s looking should be at the Cupertino camp.

The full interview with Forbes is fascinating, and I encourage you to go and read it if you have any interest in Comex and the jailbreaking scene.

[via RedmondPie]

  • Elliot George

    Certainly looks like a jailbreaker. Still, I want his skillz :L

  • cbrueggenolte

    Hope he will not be taken to court by AAPL. He does a outstanding job finding those exploits. Maybe APPL hires him and then? Who is going to do the JB then? Maybe in the Future, apple will allow some kind of third party apps without JB. Giving no warranty of course

    [Update: corrected type to AAPL, thx yeah got it wrong.]

  • BrianVoll

    They’ll hire him to find these exploits and ruin jailbreaking forever. I guess if it comes down to this, what would be more important to him? Employment, or the continued openess of our mobiles.

  • gdkid2010

    As much as I’d love to see his skills go to use in a job with Apple, I’d personally and selfishly rather have him not be hired by Apple.  That way, he can’t fix their security problems, and we’ll still be able to jailbreak.

  • cbrueggenolte

    I dont know. I hope he will find a good job in a IT-Security company and keeps the iOS free :)

  • DrM47145

    Why the hell did I become a doctor… what was I thinking!

  • Theyseeyoutrollin

    I salute hackers for giving iOS ideas. If you look at some of the jailbreak tweaks from Cydia, and even some apps from the app store, you see a lot of Apple’s ‘new features’ have already been here for quite some time.

  • crateish

    The hero of 12 year-olds who mess up iOS devices in Apple Stores.

    Oh, they’re not all 12?…  Never mind.

  • prof_peabody

    “Apple Engineers Terrified”????     Hyperbole alert!

    More like … “Apple Engineers vaguely aware of existence of hacker dude (maybe)”  

  • prof_peabody

    This is an oft-repeated fallacy.  You’ve been reading too many blogs.  

  • Mike Singleton

    Are you serious?!?! Copy & Paste? MMS? Folders? Customizable backgrounds? The new notification system? These “fallacies” were in Cydia LONG before Apple decided to adopt them, even when Apple said they weren’t possible with the iPhone. Not an opinion, but a FACT.

  • AtomicLizard

    he lives with his parents? shocker.

  • Howie Isaacks

    Meh…  I doubt Apple’s engineers are “terrified” by this guy.

  • alekjed

    Well, it’s true so what’s wrong with repeating it?

  • Tom McGrath

    Have you thought that Apple might just have been biding it’s time? If they announced all those features from day one, they’d have barely anything to improve on… or on the flipside, a lot of error filled applications and features. If Apple did announce all those features the day the iPhone came out, people would lose interest in a year or two.

  • Abram Lloyd Siegel

    And Apple hasn’t hired him because why?

  • pleasebekind

    The Apple symbol AAPL. Not APPL.

  • prof_peabody

    And copy and paste et al, weren’t in existence before Android?  Take a logic course Mike.  

    Your information here isn’t even accurate.  Copy and Paste was actually announced for iPhone long before the first Android handset rolled out of the photocopier, as were most of the other features mentioned.  Also, Apple *never* said any of that stuff “wasn’t possible” you are just making stuff up here.  

    The idea that Apple engineers are sitting around cruising Cydia “looking for ideas,” so they can put them in the iPhone is so juvenile and so completely over the top ridiculous it mostly doesn’t even bear talking about.  

    Go back to your Mum’s basement and play with your XBox.  

  • prof_peabody

    If you are using Lion, double-tap three fingers over the word “fallacy” up there.  Read the definition that pops up.  

  • francois swanepoel

    thanks for the article killian,

    maybe fat kid comex needs to tone down on hamburgers…..

  • francois swanepoel

    u mean AAPL

  • cbrueggenolte

    your right. corrected

  • cbrueggenolte

    your right, corrected

  • huyett

    Agreed, they still get paid.

  • pennstate

    Check out this awesome apple blog!
    http://applefanboynews.com/ 

  • 1stkorean

    jobs and apple are to smug to offer Comex an internship and hopefully he would turn them down.  Jailbreaking IOS is not illegal any more so I don’t see how apple coud take him to court over this.  but who knows.

  • Theyseeyoutrollin

    Ever heard of Mobile Notifier? Apple hired it’s creator, Peter Hajas. Look it up. It looks just like Apple’s “new” notification drop down. Likely because it is. You could add wallpapers to the home screen WAY before iOS 4, A popular app called Things it basically what “Reminders” is, you could also multitask via jailbreak before iOS 4, and something that really pisses me off is that Camera+ had the ability to take photos with the volume up button, and then Apple took it away from them. Which is pretty stupid because it was on Camera+ in the first place. Stop letting your own Fanboy ignorance blind you.

  • Mike Singleton

    You are absolutely correct. I’m just making things up, and Apple engineers never get ideas from Cydia. Especially not from Peter Haja’s Notifier app.

    Excuse me while I go play with my XBox.

  • Zulvianes Budiman

    iOS (and probably Macs) is in danger here. take note Apple. 

  • 011Bojan

    That kid is a living legend.

  • M0UL

    it is not @c0mex but @comex

  • UncaughtException

    Of course. He killed Voldemort.

About the author

Killian BellKillian Bell is a staff writer based in the U.K. He has an interest in all things tech and also covers Android over at CultofAndroid.com. You can follow him on Twitter via @killianbell.

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