March 5, 2024

Apple is preparing a new “lockdown mode” for iPhone, iPad and Mac, designed to thwart hacking attempts from professional spyware companies.

The upcoming Lockdown mode restricts the various processes on the device that can be exploited for malicious purposes, and is aimed at thwarting companies like the NSO Group, which specializes in developing zero-day exploits to help governments hack smartphones.

The new mode represents “maximum optional protection for a very small number of users who face serious and targeted threats to their digital security,” Apple He said(Opens in a new window) in advertising. These users can include government officials, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists, who have often been targeted by mercenary spyware companies in the past.

(Photo: Apple)

The company said that Apple designed Lockdown mode to reduce “an attack surface potentially exploitable by highly targeted mercenary spyware.” But the new protection disables some features on Apple devices.

For example, Lockdown Mode will automatically block most types of attachments other than images that go through the Messages app. It will also disable some “complex” web technologies, such as just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation, from running on a browser unless the user has given permission.

lock mode

(Photo: Apple)

“Wired connections to a computer or accessory are blocked when the iPhone is locked,” Apple added. “Configuration profiles cannot be installed, and the device cannot register in Mobile Device Manager (MDM), while locked mode is on.”

as(Opens in a new window) To Vice, the lock mode will also stop iMessage URLs from appearing as a web link. To visit the URL, you will have to copy it manually and paste it into the browser.

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Security researchers at Citizen Lab, which has been investigating the mobile spyware industry, praised Apple for developing Lockdown Mode. “The scale of the change that has happened to Apple cannot be overstated,” chirp(Opens in a new window) Citizen Lab researcher John Scott Railton. “It is very important that people who are at higher digital risk have the option of rooting their phones.”

The feature is also arriving months after Apple announced that it will start warning users whenever the company suspects they are under attack from state-sponsored spies. Scott Railton added that the lock mode now gives them a way to counter hacking attempts.

Lockdown mode is due to arrive this fall in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura. Apple also plans to add new protections to the mode over time. If you suspect that your phone is infected with advanced spyware, consider checking out the resources at access now(Opens in a new window)a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting digital rights.

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