Most consumers won’t use Apple’s latest security feature, but those who need a lockdown mode may find it a literal life saver.
Functionality, coming with iOS / iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura, dramatically shrinks the attack surface of an iDevice by disabling many of its features. It is designed to protect the small number of Apple users who, “who they are or what they do, may be personally targeted by some sophisticated digital threats, such as hired spyware from NSO groups and other state-sponsored private developers,” Apple The statement said.
Lockdown, thus, effectively reduces the number of potential vulnerabilities Spyware can use to compromise with a device, turning potential routes into surveillance target kits.
It is no coincidence that Apple calls Israeli spyware maker NSO by name. US Mega-Corp filed a lawsuit against the app in October 2021 for infecting iPhones with its Pegasus malware that snooped on virtually every component of the device and the data contained in it. Pegasus is used by multiple nation-states to spy on dissidents, journalists, and other perceived troublemakers.
Apple hopes that lockdown mode will be a way for those who are at risk of being targeted by Pegasus and similar malware to protect themselves, which it will:
- Blocking all attachment types (except images) and disabling link previews in messages.
- Block incoming facetime calls, invitations, and service requests from unknown parties unless the device owner has previously contacted them
- Not allowing wired connections to computers or peripherals while the device is locked.
- Blocking the installation of configuration profiles and mobile device management enrollment
Apple says it will add additional protection to the lockdown mode over time. The feature should be released with major OS updates this fall, and it’s not clear if lockdown mode is available in current beta builds of Apple’s OSes. We’ve reached out to learn more and will update this story when we hear.
Pegasus: A potentially deadly cyber attack
The threat of spyware from a company like NSO is not a trivial matter. Thus, for example, the Saudi Arabian government was able to locate and assassinate Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Evan Cristic, Apple’s head of security engineering and architecture, said the company knows that attacks on Khashoggi and other public figures are rare, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be fought.
Apple “continues to design defenses specifically for these users, as well as supporting researchers and organizations around the world who are doing critically important work to expose the mercenaries that create these digital attacks,” Cristic explained.
With the announcement of Lockdown Mode comes a tempting goal for bug hunters: up to $ 2 million to qualify in Lockdown Mode.
Apple also gave an update on its $ 10 million grant to the Dignity and Justice Fund at the Ford Foundation, which was first mentioned when it filed a lawsuit against the NSO. The company said DJF focused on exposing hired spyware in late 2022 and early 2023 and planned to issue the first grant with funding to better target targets. Krstić acts as technical advisor to the fund. 3