SAN FRANCISCO, JailbreakCon 2012 — To the world, he’s known only by his online pseudonym, “pod2g.” On Twitter, he has amassed over 340,000 followers. As one of the most respect iOS security researchers today, he frequently fields job interview requests from the biggest technology companies in the world. To the millions who jailbreak, he’s a living legend.
At JailbreakCon, pod2g gave a fascinating talk on his past experiences as a hacker and mastermind jailbreaker. He’s been immortalized by jailbreakers and the security research community, but in his own words he’s just a “lucky guy.”
Pod2g, who’s real name is Cyril, has been heavily involved in exploiting iOS security vulnerabilities since 2009. The 32-year-old Frenchman claims that his parents gave him no last name—a clever excuse for a infamous hacker who’s having to constantly guard his private life.
As with any hacker of his status, it’s fascinating to hear how Cyril got started. He started coding when he was only 5 years old. His father gave him a ZX 8 I computer to experiment with, and he started copying BASIC programs from books before he could even read fully. He got an ATARI ST a few years later and did some GFA BASIC, 68k assembly and demo making. It wasn’t until college that he learned Objective C and C++, the programming languages used by Apple.
“A prodigy was born”
After graduating, Cyril worked as a J2EE (Java) expert developer and then project manager for over 11 years. His first ‘hack’ was actually the beloved Linksys WRT54G router. He wanted to improve the performance of the router by making it faster, so he hacked SD driver by writing his own MIPS assembly code. His first experiencing with mobile device hacking was actually Windows Mobile 6.1. He described “cooking a new ROM” (or Read-only memory) for the platform. This allowed him to change the firmware.
Where did the name “pod2g” originate from? Cyril got into jailbreaking around the time Apple introduced the iPod touch 2G. The device had not yet been jailbroken, and another hacker named “chronic” was working on cracking it. Like many hackers who enter the iOS scene, Cyril saw it as a fun challenge. He helped create and release the jailbreak, and a prodigy was born.
After jailbreaking the iPod touch 2G, Cyril joined the Chronic Dev Team, a group of hackers who jailbreak iOS devices. After working on iOS 4 jailbreaks, he helped create the infamous Greenpois0n tool and the Corona untethered jailbreak for iOS 5.0.1. His most recent work includes Absinthe 2.0, a jailbreak tool for iOS 5.1.1 that was downloaded by millions in only a few days.
“The hackers who are actively working on the iOS 6 jailbreak can be counted on two hands”
Cyril may be brilliant, but he and his colleagues need help. “My wish is that some newcomers would help us,” said Cryil, referring to the elite group of Chronic Dev hackers who work on jailbreaks. During his talk at JailbreakCon, Cyril reiterated that there was no jailbreak for iOS 6 or the iPhone 5. Cyril and his hacker friends need time to comb through Apple’s new OS looking for vulnerabilities, which will hopefully lead to usable exploits. If there were more hackers to help, the process would undoubtedly be quicker. As it stands now, don’t expect a public iOS 6 jailbreak for months.
The hackers who are actively working on the iOS 6 jailbreak can be counted on two hands. The task is great, but the workers are few. The problem is that creating jailbreakers is far from child’s play. It requires “extensive” iOS security research and hacking experience, according to Cyril. The kind of talent required for iOS hacking can usually make more money selling their exploits or consulting for corporations. Finding someone smart enough with the level of determination required is like searching for a needle in a proverbial haystack.
And what happens when Apple itself comes knocking, like the case of comex and JailbreakMe? When I asked Cyril if he would ever consider accepting a job offer from Apple, he seemed open to the possibility. Hackers like Cyril often spend countless days on jailbreaks and then release them for free. People forget that these guys want to build their resumes and support their families like everyone else.
What struck me about Cyril was his quiet, humble, unassuming personality. He’s a normal guy with incredible knowledge. He never tried to take complete credit for his success. “I’m lucky,” he would repeatedly say with total sincerity. Lucky indeed, Cyril. Lucky indeed..