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Apple unveils ‘lockdown mode’ that blocks government spyware

Apple announced Monday that it is introducing a “Lockdown Mode” in its newest version of the iPhone operating system.

Lockdown Mode offers a new set of digital privacy tools to help protect vulnerable users, such as journalists and activists, from common forms of spyware and other attacks.

If activated, Lockdown Mode will block most message attachments, disable certain web technologies such as just-in-time Javascript compilations, and block any incoming invitations, such as Facetime Calls, if the user had not previously contacted the initiator. Lockdown Mode will also block any wired connections with a computer while the iPhone is locked and bar users from installing configuration profiles, which are often used to install particular settings, accounts, and credentials onto a device.

“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 Krstic, Apple’s head of security engineering and architecture, in a press statement. “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.”

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While some of Lockdown Mode’s features will be specific to the iPhone, the new software function will be available on iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura. iOS 16 is expected to release in September 2022.

Apple intends to continue to update Lockdown Mode over time, adding new features to account for the changing state of digital security.

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Apple also announced that it made a $10 million grant to help fund organizations investigating cyberattacks, including those caused by state-sponsored mercenary spyware developers.

The new security feature arrives nearly a year after reports of Israeli spyware being used to hack Palestinian iPhones to capture contact information and live audio in the Middle East.

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