Apple announced on Wednesday that it is adding a new security feature to protect users who may be personally targeted by some of the most advanced digital threats, such as those from the NSO Group and other private companies that develop state-sponsored spyware for mercenaries.
The new feature called “Lockdown Mode” is designed to provide an extreme, optional level of security for the very small number of users who face serious, targeted threats to their digital security because of who they are or what they do. This feature will roll out this fall with iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura.
Once Lockdown Mode is enabled, it provides the following protections:
- Messages: Most types of message attachments, except images, are blocked. Some features, such as link previews, are disabled.
- Apple services: Incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, will be blocked if the user has not previously sent the initiator a call or request.
- Wired connections to a computer or accessory are blocked when iPhone is locked.
- Configuration profiles cannot be installed and the device cannot be enrolled in mobile device management (MDM) while the lock mode is enabled.
Apple says it will continue to strengthen Lockdown Mode and add new protections to it over time.
Furthermore, the Cupertino giant has also added a new category to the Apple Security Bounty program to invite feedback and collaboration from the security research community. Researchers who can detect serious circumventions of Lockdown Mode can earn up to $2,000,000 – the highest maximum bounty payout in the industry.
“Apple makes the most secure mobile devices on the market. Lockdown Mode is a groundbreaking capability that reflects our unwavering commitment to protecting users from even the rarest, most sophisticated attacks,” said Ivan Krsti?, Apple’s chief of security engineering and architecture.
“While the vast majority of users will never fall victim to highly targeted cyber attacks, we will work tirelessly to protect the small number of users that do. That includes continuing to design defenses specifically for these users, as well as supporting researchers and organizations around the world who are doing critically important work unmasking mercenaries carrying out these digital attacks.”
Furthermore, Apple has announced that it will also provide a $10 million grant in addition to any damages awarded under the lawsuit filed against NSO Group. This is intended to help organizations that investigate, uncover and prevent highly targeted cyber-attacks, including those created by private companies that develop state-sponsored spyware for mercenaries.
The grant will go to the Dignity and Justice Fund, established by the Ford Foundation. It expects to make its first grants in late 2022 or early 2023, initially to organizations that help expose rental spyware and protect potential targets.