‘Lockdown Mode’, Apple’s Latest Security Tool for High-profile Users Introducing

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Speaking of security and privacy, Apple has always been serious about it. Ensuring user privacy has always been one of the commendable aspects of Apple and the tech giant has incorporated several security features into its operating systems. Recently, Apple has introduced a new security tool to prevent targeted cyberattacks on high-profile users like activists, journalists, and government officials. So, what is Apple’s latest security feature? Let’s find out.     

What is Apple’s Lockdown Mode?   

What is Apple’s Lockdown Mode? 

In an effort to make it difficult for mercenary spyware firms like Pegasus-maker NSO Labs to target and hack iPhone users, Apple has introduced a new security tool. Debuting as the ‘Lockdown Mode’, the feature will reduce the attack surface for hackers on iPhones. It will limit the functionalities of the smartphone that could be potentially accessed by spy softwares.  

This will include blocking most message attachment types, disabling certain complex web technologies like certain JavaScript compilations, blocking incoming invitations and service requests on Apple services like FaceTime, blocking wired connections of an iPhone with a computer, and many more. Apple will continue to launch new protections to strengthen the Lockdown Mode in the future.     

Other functionalities of Lockdown Mode  

Lockdown Mode will affect the Messages app, FaceTime, Apple online services, configuration profiles, the Safari web browser and wired connections. Although an optional feature, it will offer extreme protection for a very small number of users who face grave, targeted attacks. It vastly reduces the number of physical and digital ways for an attacker to hack into a user’s device.   

With the tool in place, the Messages app will block attachments other than images and disable link previews. Those are two common mechanisms that hackers use to infiltrate devices remotely. The web browser, another frequent conduit for hackers, will also be severely limited, with restrictions on certain fonts, web languages, and features involving reading PDFs and previewing content. In FaceTime, users won’t be able to receive calls from an individual that they haven’t previously called within the preceding 30 days.    

Why did Apple introduce Lockdown Mode?  

The launch of Apple’s new security tool comes in the aftermath of several private cyber offensive companies finding zero-day flaws and allowing their clients (generally government agencies and authorities) to hack into the devices of journalists, activists, dissidents, etc.   

In one of its blog posts, Apple said it has detailed these initiatives to “help protect users who may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware”. The announcement has come in the aftermath of several such spyware firms being exposed over the last few years for hacking into iPhone and Android devices.  

Over the past several years, state-sponsored entities have hacked high-profile users by gaining remote access to data on their iPhones. In 2021, Bloomberg News reported that several US State Department employees were hacked and notified by Apple. In November 2021, Apple sued NSO Group, saying the Israel-based company develops tools like Pegasus spyware to abuse and harm Apple users.  

According to Apple, a small number of its users have been targeted by such attacks across 150 countries. The company recently put in place a feature that notifies users who are the subject of state-sponsored cyberattacks. That notification system will be updated to inform those people about the new Lockdown Mode. 

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