Apple’s “lockdown mode” highlights security compromises

With the announcement of a new “lockdown mode” for iPhones, iPads and Macs, Apple has proven that it is possible to protect devices against even the most sophisticated attacks, but at a high operating cost.

Why it matters: Product design is all about tradeoffs, and technology companies are always trying to navigate them amid a cacophony of voices demanding that they prioritize privacy, or security, or simplicity, or other concerns.

Send the news: Apple is adding a special “lockdown” mode to its product line, designed for people such as dissidents, journalists or human rights workers who could be targeted by advanced spyware, such as Pegasus from the NSO Group.

  • The new option, coming to Macs, iPads and iPhones with this year’s software update, could make it much more difficult for attackers to access such phones, as well as significantly complicate everyday tasks from messaging to surfing. on the web and video chatting.

The big picture: The debut of lockdown mode comes amid a larger conversation about the need for better protection of user data, not only against malicious attacks, but also against overzealous governments or data-guzzling corporations.

  • Apple has made privacy a major focus of its marketing efforts and focused on minimizing the amount of data it has access to. It has done this by storing data on the device and encrypting sensitive information such as health data.
  • Even Google, which relies heavily on user data to serve ads, has added more user options and in recent days announced plans to proactively remove certain location data

How it works: Apple’s feature can be enabled with a single change in user settings, but it has a big impact on how the phone works.

  • Most message attachment types other than images are blocked. Some features, such as link previews, are disabled.
  • Some more advanced web technologies that allow sites to provide more services are disabled unless and until the owner marks the site as trusted.
  • Requests for FaceTime calls or other invitations will be blocked unless the phone owner has been in contact with the person before.
  • Wired connections to other computers or accessories are blocked when an iPhone is locked.

Of interest: Lock mode also doesn’t work with the kind of device management software commonly used by larger organizations.

Yes but: This is not intended for average users who just want to be on the safe side.

  • Apple says “Lockdown Mode” is an “extreme, optional” protection that should only be used by people who have reason to suspect that they are personally the target of a highly sophisticated attack. “Most people are never the target of attacks of this nature,” reads a warning that is displayed before a user enables the feature.

What they say:

  • Apple head of security engineering Ivan Krstić“While the vast majority of users will never fall victim to highly targeted cyberattacks, we will work tirelessly to protect the small number of users that do.”
  • Citizen Labs John Scott Railton: “Lockdown mode is a radical reduction in the threat surface of an iPhone. I cannot emphasize enough how big of a change this is for Apple.”

Our Thought Bubble: Apple deserves credit for its efforts to help users who fear advanced attacks. But it’s also in the company’s best interest to protect its devices and be known as the “safer” choice in the smartphone market.

What’s next: In a post-Roe world where every bit of personal data devices is captured be the target of a prosecutorusers will push for ever more comprehensive, effective and convenient tools to protect their data – and businesses will continue to struggle with the tradeoffs.

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