Coming to devices this autumn, the new lockdown mode aims to make Apple devices ultra-secure at the expense of functionality.
Apple has developed a new ‘lockdown mode’ for its devices to give extra security to users who are more susceptible to targeted spyware cyberattacks.
Individuals such as journalists, lawyers, government officials and human rights activists have been reportedly targeted by authoritarian governments and criminals using spyware such Pegasus by Israel’s NSO Group or, more recently, Italian spyware Hermit.
The new lockdown mode will be made available on the iPhone, iPad and Mac devices later this year, when Apple – known to make some of the most secure devices and software in the market – is expected to release a suite of software updates.
Apple describes lockdown mode as “an extreme, optional protection for the very small number of users who face grave, targeted threats to their digital security”. Turning it on secures the device’s defences, but comes at the cost of functionality.
Incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, are also blocked if the user has not previously interacted with the person initiating the call or request. Wired connections with a computer or accessory are also blocked when the iPhone is locked.
Lockdown mode is not compatible with the kinds of device management software often used by larger organisations.
“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.
Krstić noted that the “vast majority of users” will never be victims of highly targeted cyberattacks. But for the ones who may be at risk, Apple will work “tirelessly” to protect them.
“That includes continuing to design defences specifically for these users, as well as supporting researchers and organisations around the world doing critically important work in exposing mercenary companies that create these digital attacks.”
Last November, Apple sued the NSO Group behind Pegasus spyware in a bid to “hold it accountable for the surveillance and targeting of Apple users”, two months after it had to issue an urgent security patch for a Pegasus backdoor on all devices.
NSO Group develops surveillance technology that can be used to track targeted iOS and Android users. It claims its products are only used by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to prevent and investigate serious crime and terror incidents.
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