Apple launches ‘lockdown mode’
Users who require enhanced protection against Pegasus-style spyware attacks will be protected by the new device setting
Apple is rolling out a new “Lockdown mode” setting to protect vulnerable users like journalists and political activists against high-powered hack attacks from spyware apps like NSO Group’s Pegasus, the Israeli-developed program that allows the user to covertly spy on a device’s owner through its camera, screen, and microphone.
The new setting will come with iOS 16, which will be released in the fall, the company announced on Wednesday, explaining the new setting was intended for users facing “Cybersecurity is under attack..” It will also be included with iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura.
The lockdown mode blocks most messages attachments, and prevents users from making FaceTime calls to them that they have not previously spoken with. The lockdown mode will block access to iPhones connected to computers or accessories if they are locked.
NSO Group claims that its spyware is sold only to governments, who intend to track terrorists. They also claim it checks customers’ records regarding human rights before it allows them to use the application. However, Pegasus was exposed to have been spying on hundreds of journalists and political activists’ phones and is believed to have been used to target tens of thousands more, according to a recent investigation.
Many countries’ governments have been accused of deploying it against political opposition. Apple does not disclose how many iPhone owners have been targeted by Pegasus programs or copiedcat programs. It is however suing it in the US.
The tech giant expects the mode to be used by a “Very few users.” It would include only those at risk of targeting by the “The most advanced digital threats are those created by NSO Group and private companies, including state-sponsored spyware.” Meanwhile, it has offered a reward of $2 million to anyone who can find a way to circumvent the new protections.
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Pegasus can infect a phone through “zero-click” attacks which do not require the user to download an attachment or otherwise interact with the hacker. While earlier versions of the spyware required a user to click on a link in a text or email, more recent versions of the spyware exploit security flaws in a device’s OS, meaning the responsibility is on Apple (or Google, in the case of Android phones) to ensure users are safe.
Determining whether a phone has been infected by Pegasus is all but impossible for the average user, as the app hides itself in the root of the OS and self-destructs if it is unable to “Phone home” for a certain amount of time.