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Explained: Apple’s ‘Lockdown Mode’ – how new iPhone feature battles advanced spyware

Apple has announced a new security feature, called the 'Lockdown Mode', which will be available later this year for iPhones, iPads and Mac devices. What is it, and how will it work? Why is Apple rolling out this feature?

Written by Pranav Mukul , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: July 8, 2022 11:43:22 am
Apple is rolling out a “lockdown" option for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers intended to protect against spyware. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Apple has announced a major change to iPhone security in an effort to make it harder for mercenary spyware firms like Pegasus-maker NSO Labs to target and hack users of the iPhone. This has come in the aftermath of several private cyber offensive companies finding zero-day flaws, and letting their clients — typically government agencies and authorities — to hack into the devices of journalists, activists, dissidents, etc.

Lockdown Mode: What is the new iPhone feature?

The ‘Lockdown Mode’ feature, which will be available later this year for iPhones, iPads and Mac devices, will reduce the attack surface for hackers on these devices by limiting the functionalities of the smartphone that could be potentially accessed by spy softwares. This will include blocking of most message attachment types, disabling of certain complex web technologies like some JavaScript compilations, blocking of incoming invitations and service requests on Apple services like FaceTime, blocking of wired connections of an iPhone with a computer, etc. Apple said it would continue to roll out new protections to strengthen Lockdown Mode in the future.

Why is Apple rolling out these features?

In a blog post, Apple said it has detailed these initiatives to “help protect users who may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware”. The announcement has come in the aftermath of several such spyware firms being exposed over the last few years for hacking into iPhone and Android devices.

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Who have been targets of spywares like Pegasus?

A global consortium of media groups had revealed in July 2021 that the spyware had been used by several governments around the world to snoop on opponents, journalists, businessmen etc. The Indian leg of the investigation had reported that among the potential list of targets were Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, political strategist Prashant Kishor, the then Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, now Information and Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw (who was not the minister then), along with several other prominent names. The list also mentioned numbers of around 40 journalists.

What are the other announcements made by Apple?

In addition to the Lockdown Mode, Apple also announced a $10 million grant, in addition to any damages awarded from the lawsuit filed against NSO Group, to support organisations that investigate, expose, and prevent highly targeted cyberattacks, including those created by private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware. The grant will be made to the Dignity and Justice Fund established and advised by the Ford Foundation, which expects to make its first grants in late 2022 or early 2023. It will initially fund approaches to help expose mercenary spyware and protect potential targets.

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First published on: 07-07-2022 at 02:11:58 pm
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