Apple for years has marketed its iPhones, iPads and Mac computers as the most secure and privacy-focused devices on the market. Last week, it bolstered that effort with a new feature coming this fall called Lockdown Mode, designed to fight targeted hacking attempts such as the Pegasus malware, which some governments reportedly used on human rights workers, lawyers, politicians and journalists around the world. Apple also announced a $10 million grant and up to $2 million bug bounty to encourage further research into this growing threat.
This article is a part of CNET’s collection of news, suggestions, and guidance about Apple’s best-selling product, Focal Point iPhone 2022. Apple is creating a new “Lockdown Mode” for its Mac computers, iPhones, and iPads. It’s made to combat sophisticated hacking techniques like Pegasus from the NSO Group. Even though only a small number of people experience these attacks, the danger is increasing. Pegasus was employed by to spy on journalists, attorneys, politicians, and human rights advocates all across the world. Apple claims that over the previous eight months, it has discovered similar attacks on consumers in 150 different countries. Later this year, Lockdown Mode will be made available for free by Apple, which also promises frequent upgrades and enhancements. The business has also increased its bug bounties and created a grant to promote
“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,” said Ivan Krstić, Apple’s head of security engineering and architecture, in a statement. “Lockdown Mode is a groundbreaking capability that reflects our unwavering commitment to protecting users from even the rarest, most sophisticated attacks.” Along with the new Lockdown Mode, which Apple calls an “extreme” measure, the company announced a $10 million grant to the Dignity and Justice Fund, which was established by the Ford Foundation, to help support human rights and fight social repression.
The tech giant said that Lockdown Mode is designed to activate “extreme” protections to its phones, such as blocking attachments and link previews in messages, potentially hackable web browsing technologies, and incoming FaceTime calls from unknown numbers. Apple devices will also not accept accessory connections unless the device is unlocked, and people can’t install new remote management software on the devices while they’re in Lockdown Mode as well. The new feature is already available in test software being used by developers this summer and will be released for free publicly in the fall as part of iOS 16, iPadOS 16 and MacOS Ventura. Here’s how to use Apple’s Lockdown mode on an iPhone.
Last September, Apple sent out a free software update that addressed Pegasus, and then it sued NSO Group in an effort to stop the company from developing or selling any more hacking tools. It also began sending “Threat Notifications” to potential victims of these hacking tools, which Apple calls “mercenary spyware.” The company said that while the number of people targeted in these campaigns is very small, it’s notified people in about 150 countries since November.
The company’s efforts to enhance its device security comes at a time when the tech industry is increasingly confronting targeted cyberattacks from oppressive governments around the world. Unlike widespread ransomware or virus campaigns, which are often designed to indiscriminately spread furthest and quickest through homes and corporate networks, attacks like those using Pegasus are designed for quiet intelligence gathering.
Other tech companies have also expanded their approach to security in recent years. Google has an initiative called Advanced Account Protection, designed for “anyone who is at an elevated risk of targeted online attacks” by adding extra layers of safety to logins and downloads. Microsoft has been increasingly working to dump passwords.
Apple said it plans to expand Lockdown Mode over time, and announced a bug bounty of up to $2 million for people who find security holes in the new feature. For now, it’s designed primarily to disable computer features that may be helpful but that open people to potential attacks. That includes turning off some fonts, link previews and incoming FaceTime calls from unknown accounts.
Apple representatives said the company sought to find a balance between usability and extreme protections, adding that the company is publicly committing to strengthening and improving the feature. In the most recent iteration of Lockdown Mode, which is being sent to developers in an upcoming test software update, apps that display webpages will follow the same restrictions that Apple’s apps follow, though people can preapprove some websites to circumvent Lockdown Mode if needed. People in Lockdown Mode will also have to unlock their device before it’ll connect with accessories. “We’re doing all we can, alongside a number of investigative journalists working this beat, but that’s been it, and that’s a huge asymmetry,” he said, adding that Apple’s $10 million grant will help attract more work toward this issue. “You have an enormous industry that’s very lucrative and almost entirely unregulated, profiting from huge contracts from governments that have an appetite to engage in this type of espionage.”
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