Apple Introduces New Lockdown Mode to Thwart Sophisticated Spyware | Ron Benvenisti

Apple is previewing a groundbreaking security capability that offers specialized additional protection to users who may be at risk of highly targeted cyberattacks from private companies and developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware. Apple will also be providing $10 million in grants for research to expose such threats.

Apple Says That Its Lockdown Mode Is the First Of Its Kind To Offer Extreme Protection For Users Who Face Serious Targeted Threats To Their Digital Security.

Apple detailed two initiatives to help protect users who may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from private companies that develop state-sponsored “cyber-terror” spyware. While the average Apple user may not necessarily be subjected to these attacks, users in government, corporate officers, law enforcement and financial services have been the primary targets. These are prime targets for state-sponsored cyber-terrorist attacks because of their access to data which, in the wrong hands, can wreak wide ranging havoc on critical systems up to and including national security.

Lockdown Mode is projected to be coming this fall with iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura.

“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’s111111 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 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.”

Turning on Lockdown Mode in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura is still a good idea for anyone using an Apple device because it further hardens the device’s defenses and strictly limits certain functionalities, sharply reducing the attack surface that potentially could be exploited by extremely sophisticated spyware.

When ready for prime time, Lockdown Mode will include the following protections, which apply to all users:

  • 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.

Apple will continue to strengthen Lockdown Mode and add new protections to it over time. To invite feedback and collaboration from the security research community, Apple has also established a new category within the Apple Security Bounty program to reward researchers who find Lockdown Mode bypasses and help improve its protections. Bounties are doubled for qualifying findings in Lockdown Mode, up to a maximum of $2,000,000, which is the highest maximum bounty payout in the industry.


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