Apple Inc. unveiled a security tool for iPhone, iPad, and Mac devices aimed at preventing targeted cyberthreats on high-profile users such as activists, journalists, and government officials.
The optional Lockdown Mode feature will provide “extreme” protection for a “very small amount of people who face grave, targeted attacks,” Apple said in a statement on Wednesday. The tool drastically reduces the number of print and virtual ways an attacker can compromise a user’s device. According to Apple, the feature is primarily intended to combat attacks from “spyware” sold by NSO Group and other companies, especially to state-sponsored organisations.
State-sponsored entities have managed to hack high-profile users in recent years by gaining remote access to data on their iPhones.
According to Bloomberg News, a number of US State Department employees were hacked and made aware by Apple last year. Apple sued NSO Group in November, alleging that the Israel-based company creates tools such as Pegasus spyware to misuse and harm Apple users.
According to Apple, such attacks have targeted a small number of its users in 150 countries. The iPhone maker recently implemented a feature that alerts users when they are the target of state-sponsored cyberattacks. According to Apple, the notification system will be updated to notify those individuals about the new Lockdown Mode.
The Messages app, FaceTime, Apple online services, setup profiles, the Safari web browser, and wired connections will all be affected by Lockdown Mode.
With the tool installed, the Messages app will disable link previews and block attachments other than images. These are two common methods used by hackers to remotely infiltrate devices. The web browser, another common entry point for hackers, will be severely restricted as well, with restrictions on certain fonts, web languages, and features involving PDF reading and previewing.
FaceTime users will not be able to receive calls from people they haven’t spoken to in the previous 30 days.
On Apple devices, lockdown mode is activated via a toggle at the bottom of the privacy menu in the settings app. According to screenshots of the feature shared by Apple, users will be warned during setup that empowering the tool will mean the device “will not function as it typically does” and that “apps, websites, and characteristics will be strictly limited for security and some experiences will be completely unavailable.”
Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., provides similar tools for high-profile users, alerting them when they are being targeted by state-sponsored hackers and promoting proper authentication techniques as a defensive measure.
Apple intends to include Lockdown Mode in the upcoming iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura operating system updates in the coming months. It will also be tested as part of the third developer beta this week. The company did not say when versions of the feature would be available on other Apple operating systems, such as watchOS for the Apple Watch, but it did say it plans to add new safeguards in the future.