Apple introduces ‘lockdown mode’ to protect against state-sponsored spyware

Apple has announced it will introduce a 'lockdown mode' to give additional protection for people at high risk of targeted cyberattacks from state-sponsored spyware.

The company has also announced details for a $10 million grant which will fund research into spyware-based breaches.

Apple describes the mode, which will launch in the Autumn across iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and mcOS Ventura, as an ‘extreme’ protection that should only be used by those that, because of who they are or what they do, believe they may be personally targeted by a highly sophisticated cyberattack.

“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. “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 defences 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.”

Lockdown mode hardens device defences and limits certain functionalities to reduce the attack surface that could be exploited by mercenary spyware.

At launch, Lockdown Mode includes 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.

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