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Apple's new Lockdown mode is an extreme safety feature that can protect users against state-sponsored spyware

By Kenny Yeo - on 7 Jul 2022, 10:19am

Apple's new Lockdown mode is an extreme safety feature that can protect users against state-sponsored spyware

Apple has just announced a new safety feature called Lockdown Mode. It will be available later this year with iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura.

According to Apple, it was designed to protect users targeted by "sophisticated digital threats, such as those from private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware." 

Apple says:

Lockdown Mode offers an extreme, optional level of security for the very few users who, because of who they are or what they do, may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from NSO Group and other private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware. Turning on Lockdown Mode in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura further hardens device defenses and strictly limits certain functionalities, sharply reducing the attack surface that potentially could be exploited by highly targeted mercenary spyware.

When Lockdown mode is activated, the phone goes into an extreme safety mode by disabling certain functions. According to Apple, Lockdown mode currently incorporates the following protections:

- Messages: Most message attachment types other than images are blocked. Some features, like link previews, are disabled.

- Web browsing: Certain complex web technologies, like just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation, are disabled unless the user excludes a trusted site from Lockdown Mode.

- Apple services: Incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, are blocked if the user has not previously sent the initiator a call or request.

- Wired connections with a computer or accessory are blocked when iPhone is locked.

- Configuration profiles cannot be installed, and the device cannot enroll into mobile device management (MDM), while Lockdown Mode is turned on.

Even though anyone can use the feature, it was really designed for individuals who might be in danger because their devices have somehow been compromised. For example, evidence of NSO Group's Pegasus software was found in the phone of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Apple says they will continue to improve Lockdown mode and add protections to it over time. Additionally, it has doubled the bounties to a maximum of US$2 million for researchers who find vulnerabilities in Lockdown Mode. This is supposedly the highest bounty payout in the industry.

In addition, Apple is also creating a US$10 million grant, in addition to any damages awarded from the lawsuit filed against the NSO group, "to support organisations that investigate, expose, and prevent highly targeted cyberattacks, including those created by private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware."

Source: Apple

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