Apple will help protect you against advanced cyberattacks with Lockdown Mode

The feature will come to iPhones, iPads, and Macs in order to help protect you from threats like last year's Pegasus virus.

Apple has taken a very sharp turn in the direction of privacy over the past few years in order to market its products as the most secure you can get, and today’s announcement plays right into that effort. In a press release, the company announced Lockdown Mode, a new feature coming to iPhones, iPads, and Macs that will help to protect those targeted by advanced cyberattacks by locking down various aspects of their device.

Lockdown Mode is primarily designed to protect you against highly sophisticated treats and attacks like nation-state-sponsored mercenary spyware, such as the NSO Group-created Pegasus which went around last year. This makes the feature’s target audience incredibly niche since a very small number of users are affected by attacks like these, but it’s certainly helpful for reassurance and future-proofing if threats like that become more wide-spread.

With the feature enabled, Apple says your device will have a limited “attack surface” which hackers can access. It does this by disabling various features across your device which, at launch, will include the following.

  • Messages: Most message attachment types other than images are blocked. Some features, like link previews, are disabled.
  • Web browsing: Certain complex web technologies, like just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation, are disabled unless the user excludes a trusted site from Lockdown Mode.
  • Apple services: Incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, are blocked if the user has not previously sent the initiator a call or request.
  • Wired connections with a computer or accessory are blocked when iPhone is locked.
  • Configuration profiles cannot be installed, and the device cannot enroll into mobile device management (MDM), while Lockdown Mode is turned on.

Over time, Apple says more aspects of your devices will be locked down with the mode enabled.

In addition, Apple has introduced a new category within its Security Bounty program which will encourage researchers to find security loopholes and other bypasses within Lockdown mode and award them up to $2 million for their discoveries.

In its press release, Apple highlights its efforts to support organizations who actively work to prevent targeted cyberattacks. Its $10 million grant and any damages awarded from its lawsuit against NSO Group will go directly to those groups through the Dignity and Justice Fund established and advised by the Ford Foundation. “The global spyware trade targets human rights defenders, journalists, and dissidents; it facilitates violence, reinforces authoritarianism, and supports political repression,” said Lori McGlinchey, director of the Ford Foundation’s Technology and Society program. “The Ford Foundation is proud to support this extraordinary initiative to bolster civil society research and advocacy to resist mercenary spyware. We must build on Apple’s commitment, and we invite companies and donors to join the Dignity and Justice Fund and bring additional resources to this collective fight.”

“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 Krstić, head of Security Engineering and Architecture at Apple. “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. 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.”

Lockdown Mode will be coming in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura which will all roll out later this fall. Beta versions of the new software updates will preview the feature for testers to work out any kinks before it’s released to the general public.