Jul 6, 2022 - Technology

Apple's iPhone "lockdown" mode protects potential hacking targets

A series of screenshots showing the process for turning on Lockdown Mode
A series of Apple screenshots showing the process for turning on lockdown mode. Photo: Apple

Apple is adding a special "lockdown" mode designed for people such as dissidents, journalists or human rights workers who could become the targets of high-end spyware, such as NSO Group's Pegasus.

Why it matters: The new option, coming to Macs, iPads and iPhones with this year's fall software update, could make it much harder for attackers to access such phones, but at the expense of a considerable amount of functionality.

How it works: The feature can be turned on with a single change in settings, but the impact on how the phone works is significant.

  • Messages: Most message attachment types other than images are blocked. Some features, like link previews, are disabled.
  • Web browsing: Some more advanced web technologies that enable sites to provide more services are disabled unless and until the owner marks the site as trusted.
  • Apple services: Requests for FaceTime calls or other invitations are blocked unless the phone owner has previously interacted with the person.
  • Wired connections to other computers or accessories are blocked when an iPhone is locked.

Of note: The lockdown mode also won't work in conjunction with the kinds of device management software often used by larger organizations.

Yes, but: This isn't intended for average users who just prefer to be on the safe side.

  • Apple says "Lockdown Mode" is an "extreme, optional" protection to be used only by those with reason to suspect they might be personally targeted for a highly sophisticated attack. "Most people are never targeted by attacks of this nature," reads a warning shown before a user turns on the feature.

What they're saying: "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.

  • "That includes continuing to design defenses specifically for these users, as well as supporting researchers and organizations around the world doing critically important work in exposing mercenary companies that create these digital attacks.”
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