Apple Lockdown Mode to safeguard high-profile users from govt spyware

New Delhi: As state-sponsored cyber attacks with government spyware like Pegasus grow, Apple has previewed an extreme level of security that offers specialized additional protection to high-profile users who may be at risk of highly targeted attacks from private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware.

Called Lockdown Mode and coming this fall with iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura, the new feature is an extreme, optional protection for the very small number of users who face grave, targeted threats to their digital security, the company said in a statement late on Wednesday.

“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 Krstic, Apple’s 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,” he added.

The new security feature comes after iPhones of high-profile people were targeted by the Pegasus software.

It was capable of reading text messages, tracking calls, collecting passwords, location tracking, accessing the target device’s microphone and camera, and harvesting information from apps.

The spyware has been used for surveillance of activists, journalists and political leaders from several nations around the world, including in India.

Apple said that Lockdown Mode offers extreme levels of security for the very few users who, because of who they are or what they do, may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from NSO Group and other private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware.

Turning on Lockdown Mode in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura further hardens device defences and strictly limits certain functionalities, sharply reducing the attack surface that potentially could be exploited by highly targeted mercenary spyware, the company explained.

At launch, Lockdown Mode will block incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, if the user has not previously sent the initiator a call or request.

Wired connections with a computer or accessory will be blocked when the iPhone is locked.

“Configuration profiles cannot be installed, and the device cannot enrol into mobile device management (MDM), while Lockdown Mode is turned on,” said Apple.

Apple is also making a $10 million grant, in addition to any damages awarded from the lawsuit filed against Pegasus developer NSO Group, to support organisations that investigate, expose, and prevent highly targeted cyberattacks.

The grant will be made to the Dignity and Justice Fund established and advised by the Ford Foundation.

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