Apple Announces Lockdown Mode to Counter Government Spyware Attacks TechCrunch

Apple said Wednesday it will introduce a new “Lockdown Mode” for its upcoming iPhone and Mac software that will disable certain features aimed at helping highly targeted individuals fight government-grade spyware.

The tech giant said the new feature is “extreme optional protection” for device owners previously targeted by nation states that use powerful spyware, such as journalists, activists and human rights defenders

The function lands after years of repeated and successful attacks targeting thousands of iPhone users around the world. Spyware makers such as NSO Group, Candiru and Cytrox build the exploits that penetrate a device’s security to install spyware on behalf of their government customers. Apple typically releases security updates for its devices quickly, but wider efforts to strengthen its iPhone security exploits against these types of exploits have not always been successful

Security researchers say it’s not uncommon for government-grade spyware to read messages, download call logs, download photos, surreptitiously record the device’s microphone and phone calls, take photos with the phone’s camera, access victim’s passwords and the location of the phone in real time.

A screenshot showing the iOS Lockdown mode in iOS 16.

A screenshot showing what Lockdown Mode will look like in iOS 16. Image Credits: Apple (included)

When rolling out “Lockdown Mode”, those who are subject to highly targeted hacking attempts can immediately disable a number of features, such as greatly limiting what code can be run in apps and on websites and other areas of Apple software, like iMessage and FaceTimethat have been abused by spyware creators to create exploits that can place spyware on iPhones.

Lock mode also prevents iPhones and Macs from installing configuration profilescommonly used by organizations to deploy settings and security measures across devices, but also exploited by consumer grade spyware to monitor and secretly download the contents of a victim’s devices. Wired connections are also blocked when Lockdown mode is enabled, preventing hardware forensic tools of downloading data from a device.

In a postApple said the new locking feature “further hardens device defenses and strictly limits certain functionalities, significantly reducing the attack surface that could potentially be exploited by highly targeted rental spy spyware.”

Apple said the feature will appear in iOS 16, iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura, which will be released later this year next to Apple’s new iPhones

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