Apple’s new iPhone lock mode fights hacking

This story is part of Focal Point iPhone 2022CNET’s collection of news, tips and advice on Apple’s most popular product.

What’s up

Apple is developing a new “Lockdown Mode” for its iPhones, iPads and Macs. It is designed to combat industrial force hacking like NSO Groups Pegasus.

Why it matters

Although these attacks occur with a small group of people, the threat grows. Pegasus was used by spies on human rights activists, lawyers, politicians and journalists around the world. Apple says it has identified similar attacks on people in 150 countries in the past eight months.

What’s next

Apple will release Lockdown Mode for free later this year and says they are planning regular updates and improvements. The company has also expanded its error rewards and established a scholarship to encourage further research into this issue.

For years, Apple has marketed its iPhones, iPads and Macs as the most secure and privacy-focused devices on the market. Last week, it strengthened this effort with a new feature coming this fall called Lockdown Mode, designed to combat targeted hacking attempts such as Pegasus malwarelike some governments allegedly used on human rights workers, lawyers, politicians and journalists around the Earth. Apple also announced a $ 10 million scholarship and up to $ 2 million bug prizes to encourage further research into this growing threat.

The tech giant said Lockdown Mode is designed to enable “extreme” protection for their 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 will not be able to install new remote management software on the devices while in lock mode as well. The new feature is already available in test software used by developers this summer and will be released free of charge publicly this fall as part of iOS 16, iPadOS 16 and MacOS Ventura. Here is how to use Apple’s lock mode on an iPhone.

“While the vast majority of users will never fall victim to highly targeted cyberattacks, we will work tirelessly to protect the small number of users who are there,” he said. Ivan Krstić, Apple’s head of security technology and architecture, in a statement. “Lockdown Mode is a groundbreaking feature that reflects our unwavering commitment to protecting users from even the rarest, most sophisticated attacks.”

Apple designed Lockdown Mode to be easy to turn on, through the settings app on the devices.

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Along with the new lock-in mode, which Apple calls an “extreme” measure, the company announced a $ 10 million grant to the Dignity and Justice Fund, established by the Ford Foundation, to help support human rights and combat social oppression.

The company’s efforts to improve the device’s security come at a time when the technology industry is increasingly confronting targeted cyberattacks by oppressive governments around the world. Unlike widespread ransom or virus campaigns, which are often designed to spread the longest and fastest through home and corporate networks, attacks like those using Pegasus are designed for quiet intelligence gathering.

read more: Why Apple is developing a new level of security for your iPhone

People need to restart their devices before turning on lock mode.

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In September last year, Apple released a free software update that turned to Pegasusand so it sued NSO Group in an attempt to stop the company from developing or selling more hacking tools. It also began sending “threat alerts” to potential victims of these hacking tools, which Apple calls “mercenary spyware.” The company said that although the number of people targeted in these campaigns is very small, it has alerted people in around 150 countries since November.

Other technology companies have also expanded their approach to security in recent years. Google has an initiative called Advanced Account Protection, designed for “anyone at increased risk for targeted cyberattacks” by adding additional layers of security to logins and downloads. Microsoft has become more and more working on dumping passwords.

Apple said it plans to expand the lock mode over time, and announced one bug bounty of up to $ 2 million for people who find security holes in the new feature. Currently, it is primarily designed to disable computer features that may be useful, but which open up people to potential attacks. This includes turning off some fonts, link previews, and incoming FaceTime calls from unknown accounts.

read more: How to use Apple’s lock mode to protect yourself from an industrial-grade iPhone hack

Apple officials said the company was trying to strike a balance between ease of use and extreme protection, adding that the company is publicly committed to strengthening and improving its functionality. In the latest iteration of Lockdown Mode, which is sent to developers in one upcoming test software update, Apps that display web pages will follow the same restrictions that Apple’s apps follow, although people may pre-authorize some sites to bypass lock mode if necessary. People in lock mode must also unlock the device before connecting it to accessories.

Encourage more research

In addition, Apple said it hopes a $ 10 million grant to the Dignity and Justice Fund will help encourage more research into these issues and expand training and safety audits for people who can be targeted.

“Every day we see these threats expand and deepen,” said Lori McGlinchey, director of the Ford Foundations Technology and Society program, who works with technical advisors including Apple Krstić to help lead the fund. “In recent years, state and non-state actors have used spyware to track down and intimidate human rights defenders, environmental activists and political dissidents in virtually every region of the world.”

Ron Deibert, professor of political science and director of Citizen Labs’ cyber security researchers at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, said he expects Apple’s Lockdown Mode to be a “big blow” to spyware companies and product-dependent governments. their.”

“We are doing everything we can, along with a number of investigative journalists working at this pace, but it has been, and there is a huge asymmetry,” he said, adding that Apple’s $ 10 million grant will help attract more work on this issue. “You have a huge industry that is very lucrative and almost completely unregulated, profiting from huge contracts from governments that have an appetite to engage in this type of espionage.”