Apple has announced a new Lockdown Mode for its upcoming iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura software. Apple typically reveals most features of its device software at the WWDC conference, which took place in June this year, but this is a rare announcement where a key upcoming feature has been announced a month later. ‘Lockdown mode’ is aimed at protecting users from “highly targeted mercenary spyware,” according to Apple’s newsroom post.
According to Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, Apple’s latest iOS 16 developer beta 3 includes the Lockdown Mode. While Apple has attached screenshots of how this will look on iOS 16, it is not clear how the mode will appear on other devices. But presumably, the functions offered will be same across the range of devices.
The announcement comes in wake of increasing spyware attacks against iPhones and Android devices. The latest spyware incidents were reported around the use of Hermit against iPhones and Android devices in Italy and Kazakhstan. Previously, the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware has targeted iPhones and Android devices as well. Apple has already sued the Israel-based NSO Group.
“Lockdown Mode is a groundbreaking capability that reflects our unwavering commitment to protecting users from even the rarest, most sophisticated attacks,” Ivan Krstić, Apple’s head of Security Engineering and Architecture said in the press announcement. “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, as well as supporting researchers and organisations around the world doing critically important work in exposing mercenary companies that create these digital attacks,” he added.
Apple has also made it clear this is not meant for every single user. But rather for a “very small number of users who face grave, targeted threats to their digital security,” according to its press statement. Keep in mind when activated, Lockdown Mode will disable many common features on the iPhone, which will cause more inconvenience to users. But then this might be a price to pay for enhanced security. Apple is also offering a $10 million grant to the Dignity and Justice Fund to bolster research exposing such threats further.
Lockdown Mode: Here’s what will happen
What happens in Lockdown Mode is that certain functions get limited– typically those which have been used by bad actors in the past to deploy the spyware. According to Apple, when turn on Lockdown mode is turned on, most attachments in the Messages app will be blocked. Only images will be allowed. Features like link previews, etc will get disabled.
Further, Apple will block all incoming invites, service requests, including FaceTime calls from strangers. FaceTime calls will be blocked if the user has not previously sent the initiator a call or request, notes the statement. Wired connections with a computer or accessory are blocked when iPhone is locked.
Further, any configuration profiles for work or school cannot be installed. The device cannot enrol into mobile device management (MDM)– often deployed by enterprises on employee devices— when the Lockdown Mode is turned on.
Apple has said it will add new protections to Lockdown Mode over the months. It is also inviting feedback from the security research community.
It has added a new category to its Apple Security Bounty program. This will reward researchers who find Lockdown Mode bypasses and help improve its protections, adds the statement. Apple is offering up to a maximum of $2,000,000 as part of this program.