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Can I Hack My Own Phone?

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By George Khoury, Esq. on November 07, 2016 3:01 PM

For the next two years, it is completely legal to hack the devices you own. While there are some restrictions, the revisions to the DMCA that took effect last month effectively mean that you cannot be prosecuted for reverse engineering a device you own. The law is temporary and will expire in two years, unless law makers act to make it permanent or extend the time period.

While the word "hacker" invokes thoughts of malicious cyber-attacks and identity theft, this isn't always the case. Hackers frequently try to make consumer products better for everybody. Hackers are also notorious for discovering security flaws in consumer goods, including medical devices and even cars.

What's Actually Legal Now

The revisions to the DMCA doesn't legalize hacking every part of every device. For instance, it will still be illegal for a hacker to access code if it is not stored physically on the device they own. That means that a hacker cannot use the new law to break into a website, or internet server, that a device relies upon even in the interest of security research.

The revised law does allow people to modify and repair their own devices, as well as conduct security research on devices they own. So security researchers cannot use consumers as test subjects. While the average consumer will never attempt to modify their devices, or even to repair them themselves, making it illegal to do so does have an impact on the average consumer.

Why This Is Good for Everyone

While manufacturers and developers have an important interest in the security of their products' intellectual property, not allowing the owners of a product to modify or repair it themselves feels un-American. Recently, John Deere was embroiled in controversy when tractor owners were told they were not allowed to fix their own tractor's computers. This law changes that.

Additionally, the changes make it much easier and safer for security researchers to conduct research on devices without fearing of prosecution. Before, a security researcher needed to proceed with caution as releasing their findings could result in prosecution. The new law provides guidelines for researchers to follow, which should promote more research, which will, at the end of the day, provide consumers with more secure, safer devices.

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