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New Apple “Lockdown” Mode Blocks Mercenary Spyware

Lockdown mode settings in iOS 16.

As part of its continued effort to fight government-funded mercenary spyware, Apple will offer a new “Lockdown Mode” in iOS 16 and macOS Ventura. The average person will never use this setting, but it should offer enhanced protection for common targets of global governments, such as journalists and dissidents.

Update, 8/26/22: In a conversation with Motherboard, Cryptee CEO John Ozbay warns that the iOS “Lockdown Mode” could make someone a target for mercenary spyware. Websites can easily identify when someone is using “Lockdown Mode,” as it disables custom fonts and other simple webpage features.

It seems that Apple made a trade-off—more security, less privacy. But this should only matter to journalists, politicians, and other people who may be the target of a nation state.

It seems that the Pegasus spyware really pushed Apple over the edge. Developed by Israel’s NSO, Pegasus leverages zero-click vulnerabilities to break into Apple devices. It’s licensed to several foreign powers, including the United States and segments of the EU.

That said, Pegasus is best known for its association with the Saudi government. The spyware is regularly discovered on the phones of journalists and human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including those who are jailed or murdered. (For what it’s worth, the Saudi government also hit Jeff Bezos with Pegasus or a similar spyware in 2018.)

Because mercenary spyware like Pegasus takes advantage of zero-click vulnerabilities (which are discovered by reverse-engineering Apple’s products), Lockdown Mode has to close these vulnerabilities. That means reduced functionality, especially when it comes to image or file previews, FaceTime calls, and JavaScript.

“Lockdown Mode is an extreme, optional protection that should only be used if you believe you may be personally targeted by a highly sophisticated cyberattack. Most people are never targeted by attacks of this nature.”

Apple also says that its dumping money into the Dignity and Justice Fund, which will attempt to fight mercenary spyware through education, coordination with advocacy groups, and the development of software forensic tools. But because mercenary spyware is such a powerful diplomatic and economic tool, Lockdown Mode looks to be the long-term solution for at-risk parties.

Lockdown Mode debuts with iOS 16 and macOS Ventura later this year. According to Apple, the capabilities of Lockdown Mode will grow to meet the threat of new spyware.

Source: Apple 

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew is the News Editor for Review Geek, where he covers breaking stories and manages the news team. He joined Life Savvy Media as a freelance writer in 2018 and has experience in a number of topics, including mobile hardware, audio, and IoT. Read Full Bio »