Apple introduces Lockdown Mode to protect users from spyware

Lockdown Mode is coming this fall with iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura.

Apple said it is extreme and optional protection for the very small number of users “who face grave, targeted threats to their digital security.”

“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.

Lockdown Mode is designed to protect against sophisticated digital threats, such as those from NSO group and other private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware.

The new feature will strictly limit certain functionalities, reducing the attack surface.

  • Messages: Most message attachment types other than images are blocked. Some features, like link previews, are disabled.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 has also established a new category within its bug bounty program to reward security researchers who find Lockdown Mode bypasses.

“Bounties are doubled for qualifying findings in Lockdown Mode, up to a maximum of $2,000,000 — the highest maximum bounty payout in the industry,” the company said.

It also established a grant of $10 million to support organizations that investigate, expose, and prevent highly targeted cyberattacks, including those created by private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware.

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