Apple Unveils ‘Lockdown Mode’ to Protect iPhone, iPad, Mac from Targeted Spyware

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Apple has announced ‘Lockdown Mode’ is coming to iPhone, iPad and the Mac, to protect devices from targeted spyware.

The company says this “groundbreaking security capability” will offer “specialized additional protection to users who may be at risk of highly targeted cyberattacks from private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware.”

Apple says it will also provide a $10 million grant to fund research exposing mercenary spyware threats.

“Apple makes the most secure mobile devices on the market. 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, in a statement.

“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 organizations around the world doing critically important work in exposing mercenary companies that create these digital attacks.”

Apple specifically called out spyware from the NSO Group and “other private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware.”

Lockdown Mode will be available in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura. The feature has already hit the latest iOS 16 betas just now.

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Lockdown Mode will limit features, apps and features, such as:

  • 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.

“There is now undeniable evidence from the research of the Citizen Lab and other organizations that the mercenary surveillance industry is facilitating the spread of authoritarian practices and massive human rights abuses worldwide,” said Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, in a statement.

“I applaud Apple for establishing this important grant, which will send a strong message and help nurture independent researchers and advocacy organizations holding mercenary spyware vendors accountable for the harms they are inflicting on innocent people,” added Deibert.

Apple says its security bounties are doubled for qualifying findings in Lockdown Mode, offering up to $2 million USD, emphasizing it was the highest maximum bounty payout in the industry.