Apple Lockdown Mode will protect users against highly targeted cyberattacks

Pierluigi Paganini July 09, 2022

Apple plans to introduce a security feature, called Lockdown Mode, to protect its users against “highly targeted cyberattacks.”

The recent wave of sophisticated attacks against Apple users (i.e. PegasusDevilsTongue, and Hermit) urged the tech giant to develop a new security feature, called Lockdown Mode, to protect its users against highly targeted cyberattacks.

Apple iOS Lockdown mode

The new feature will be implemented in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura, but is already available for preview in beta versions of its upcoming software.

“Lockdown Mode offers an extreme, optional level 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.” reads the announcement published by Apple. “Turning on Lockdown Mode in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura further hardens device defenses and strictly limits certain functionalities, sharply reducing the attack surface that potentially could be exploited by highly targeted mercenary spyware.”

The first version of the new security feature will implement the following protections: 

  • 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 also created a new category within its bug bounty program to reward researchers who will demonstrate exploits to bypass the Lockdown Mode. Apple will pay up to a maximum of $2,000,000 for demonstrating flaws in Lockdown Mode, the company pointed out that it is the highest maximum bounty payout in the industry.

The IT giant also plans to offer a $10 million grant to support organizations that investigate, expose, and prevent highly targeted cyberattacks, including those using exploits created by private companies and sold to nation-state actors. 

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Apple)

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