Apple iPhone Lockdown Mode is meant to stop government-sponsored hacking

Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers a keynote speech during the EU Privacy Conference at the European Union Parliament in Brussels, Belgium on October 24, 2018.

Yves Herman | Reuters

Apple Apple on Wednesday announced a new feature called Lockdown Mode for iPhones to protect high-profile users like politicians and activists against state-sponsored hackers.

Lockdown mode disables many features on the iPhone, reducing spyware vulnerability by significantly reducing the number of features that attackers can access and hack.

Specifically, it disables many preview features in iMessage, restricts JavaScript in the Safari browser, prevents the installation of new configuration profiles, blocks wired connections — and therefore prevents device data from being copied — and disables incoming Apple service requests. Including FaceTime.

The tech giant will pay up to $2 million to researchers who find a security flaw in Lockdown Mode.

The announcement comes months after it was revealed that state-sponsored hackers had gained the ability to hack into the latest model iPhones through “zero-click” attacks delivered via text messages. These attacks can be successful even if the victim does not click on the link.

There are growing calls from governments for the iPhone maker to address the issue. In March, US lawmakers Apple pressed About the details of the attacks, whether it can detect them, how many have been detected, when and where they occurred.

Most hackers are financially motivated and most malware is designed to give away valuable information such as user passwords or provide access to financial accounts.

But the government-sponsored attacks that Lockdown Mode targets are different: They use very expensive tools sold directly to law enforcement agencies or sovereign governments, and use undetected bugs to gain a foothold in an iPhone’s operating system. From there, attackers can do things like control its microphone and camera and steal a user’s browsing and communication history.

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Lockdown mode is designed for the small number of people who think they might be targeted by a government-sponsored hacker and need extreme protection. Targets of military-grade spyware attacks include journalists, human rights activists and business executives. For the Washington Post. Spyware is said to have been used to target public officials including A French minister And Catalan separatist leaders in Spain.

“While the vast majority of users will never fall victim to highly targeted cyber attacks, we work tirelessly to protect a small number of users,” Ivan Krstić, Apple’s head of security engineering and architecture, said in a statement.


There are several variants of mercenary spyware, but the most popular version is Pegasus, developed by NSO Group in Israel. Recently, researchers at the University of Toronto And Amnesty International They have discovered and documented versions of this type of spyware targeting iPhones.

There is NSO Group Said before Its technology is legally used by governments to fight pedophiles and terrorists.

The NSO Group has fallen out of favor with big tech companies, particularly Apple, which markets its devices as more secure than the competition. Apple sued NSO Group last year, saying it was malicious and that it was Apple damaged the business. Facebook Parents Meta NSO Group is suing over its efforts WhatsApp Hack.

Last November, the US Commerce Dept Blacklisted NSO GroupBlocking American companies from working with it is one of the strongest measures the US government can take to attack foreign companies.

Apple says most of the 1 billion iPhone users will never be targeted. Mercenary spyware like Pegasus can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, Apple says, so the tools are valuable and only used to target a small number of users. As new versions of spyware are discovered, Apple patches the bugs they use, rendering the original exploits ineffective and forcing vendors like the NSO team to reengineer how their tools work.

Lockdown mode isn’t on by default, but Apple says it can be enabled with a single tap from within the iPhone’s settings. It is also available for iPads and Macs.

The new feature will be available for testing in a beta version of iOS this week ahead of its wider release in the fall.

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