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InfoQ Homepage News Apple Introduces Lockdown Mode to Secure Its OSes against Cyberattacks

Apple Introduces Lockdown Mode to Secure Its OSes against Cyberattacks


The new Lockdown Mode announced by Apple, available now in the latest betas of iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura, aims to provide a further level of protection to users at risk of highly targeted Cyberattacks.

Lockdown Mode offers an extreme, optional level of security for the very few users who, because of who they are or what they do, may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from NSO Group and other private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware.

Turning on Lockdown Mode will require users to enable the corresponding option in and restart their devices. This action will harden the OS defenses and limit a number of functionalities, thus reducing the attack surface available to cyberattackers.

In Lockdown Mode, messages will not display attachments, such as images, or link previews. Additionally, JavaScript JIT will be disabled by default for all websites that have not been whitelisted. Similarly, all Apple Services, including Facetime, will block any requests from unknown call initiators. Finally, wired connections with a computer or accessory will be blocked while the device is locked and mobile device management and configuration profiles will not be available.

Apple says Lockdown Mode is the first major capability of this kind available in its OSes, hinting at the possibility that more advanced capabilities will be added in future.

One of the common mental barriers that prevent platform and OS developers from adding high-security features is the fear that this will make user experience worse and break features, says Citizen Lab senior researcher John Scott-Railton.

This concern is clearly reflected in the way Apple is targeting the announcement of its new security feature to the "very few users" who might need it, in spite of the fact that Lockdown Mode will be a general feature of Apple OSes available to all users.

While the list of features disabled in Lockdown Mode could indeed seem to have the potential to cripple down user experience, commenters on Hacker News pointed out this could not be entirely the case. Others voiced the idea that the kind of features Lockdown Mode disables are exactly those they would not like to have in a phone in the first place.

Apple is actively seeking feedback from researchers and to this aim has established a new category in its Bounty Program doubling the bounties for findings affecting Lockdown Mode, up to a maximum of $2,000,000.

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