New Lockdown Mode makes iPhone secure from targeted digital attacks

New Lockdown Mode makes iPhone secure from sophisticated digital attacks

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New Lockdown Mode makes iPhone secure from sophisticated digital attacks
Lockdown Mode is designed to offer an extreme, optional protection for the very small number of users who face grave, targeted threats to their digital security.
Image: Apple/Cult of Mac

A new hyper-secure Lockdown Mode should help protect the iPhones, iPads and Macs of journalists, politicians and activists who face “highly targeted cyberattacks from private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware,” Apple said Wednesday.

The new security measure is only for extreme cases, though, because it blocks commonly used features of messaging and web browsing.

Apple’s super-secure Lockdown Mode is for iPhone, iPad and Mac

Apple created Lockdown Mode in response to NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, which is only supposed to be used by legitimate governments against criminals. There have been accusations of misuse (although no ordinary user is at risk from Pegasus). Still, political activists around the world have found it on their devices. Apple is trying to help this group.

Lockdown Mode is a groundbreaking capability that reflects our unwavering commitment to protecting users from even the rarest, most sophisticated attacks,” said Ivan Krstić, Apple’s head of security engineering and architecture, in a statement Wednesday. “While the vast majority of users will never be the victims of highly targeted cyberattacks, we will work tirelessly to protect the small number of users who are. That includes continuing to design defenses specifically for these users.”

Some features are disabled for security reasons

The new security mode is part of the upcoming iOS 16, iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura software updates coming later this year. It makes computers harder to attack by limiting functionality, thereby “sharply reducing the attack surface that potentially could be exploited by highly targeted mercenary spyware,” according to Apple.

Lockdown Mode blocks most attachment types in the Messages app. It also blocks incoming FaceTime calls, unless the user has called that person before.

But that’s just the start of LockDown Mode’s extreme protections. Just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation is disabled in the Safari web browser. Configuration profiles cannot be installed, either. And the device cannot enroll into mobile device management while Lockdown Mode is enabled. It also blocks wired connections with a computer or accessory.

Plus, Apple promises to continue to strengthen Lockdown Mode and add new protections to it over time.

Apple makes $10 million grant to fight spyware

In a related announcement, Apple said it will make a $10 million grant to support organizations that fight highly targeted cyberattacks. The company hopes to curtail state-sponsored spyware developed by for-profit companies.

Apple will make the grant to the Dignity and Justice Fund established and advised by the Ford Foundation.