Back in July, Apple announced that it was making a special type of iPhone consumers wouldn’t be able to buy. Instead, this hacker-friendly iDevice would be sent exclusively to security researchers. This week, that new iPhone started shipping.
As you’d expect, the iPhones consumers receive include a locked-down version of iOS so as to make it very difficult for malicious software and hackers to take control of your device. However, security researchers have to work with the same version, making it that much more difficult to analyze and discover security holes in the mobile OS. Apple realized this and decided to offer a hacker-friendly iPhone to the research community.
As MacRumors reports, Apple sent out notifications this week to the first batch of researchers selected to receive the special iPhone. Apparently they are in the mail and should arrive shortly, meaning some researchers may end up with an unexpected Christmas present to open on Friday.
The hacker-friendly iPhones are on loan from Apple for a period of 12 months, but the time frame can be extended if Apple sees fit. In return for making these devices available, Apple expects all discovered vulnerabilities to be reported promptly. Researchers are incentivized to do that anyway because Apple runs a bug bounty program with payouts awarded to whoever discovers a security flaw first. The amount paid depends on how serious of a vulnerability it is, with the top payout being $1.5 million currently.
Don’t expect to see these special iPhones out in the wild. Apple is clear they aren’t meant to be used like a normal iPhone. Instead, they will most likely remain on a researcher’s desk being bombarded with attempts to hack the security and earn both the kudos and cash that comes with each discovery.