Apple announces new lockdown mode for iOS 16 with “extreme” level of security

Apple today announced a new lockdown mode for iPhone, iPad, and Mac running iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura. According to Apple, the optional security feature is designed to protect the “very small number” of users who may be at risk of “highly targeted cyberattacks” from private companies that develop state-sponsored spyware, such as journalists, activists and government employees.

Lockdown mode feature
According to Apple, lockdown mode is enabled in the third beta versions of iOS 16, iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura released today, and the feature will be available to all users when the software updates are released later this year. Although the feature is aimed at users who are targets of cyber attacks, it seems that anyone can activate it.

Lockdown mode is off by default and can be turned on in the Privacy & Security section of the Settings or System Preferences app. Once turned on, lockdown mode can be turned off at any time in the same section of the Settings app. To enable or disable lockdown mode, the device must be restarted and the device passcode entered.

Lockdown mode iOS 16

When lockdown mode is enabled, Apple says it provides an “extreme” level of security by severely limiting or disabling the functionality of features, apps, and websites. At startup, lockdown mode includes the following protections:

  • In the Messages app, most types of message attachments are blocked except images, and some features like link previews are unavailable.
  • Incoming FaceTime calls from people you haven’t called before will be blocked. Incoming invitations to other Apple services from people you haven’t previously invited will also be blocked.
  • Some complex web technologies and browsing features, including just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation, are disabled unless the user excludes a trusted website from blocking mode. This protection applies to Safari and all other web browsers using WebKit on iPhone, iPad and Mac.
  • Shared albums are removed from the Photos app and new invitations to shared albums are blocked.
  • When a device is locked, cable connections to other devices/accessories are blocked.
  • Configuration profiles cannot be installed and the device cannot enroll in mobile device management (MDM) while lockdown mode is enabled.

Apple said it will add more protections to lockdown mode over time. Apple has added a new category to its Security Bounty program to reward researchers who find lockdown mode bypasses and help improve protection, with bounty doubling for qualifying lockdown mode results, up to a maximum of $2 million.

“Lockdown mode is a game-changing feature that reflects our unwavering commitment to protecting users from even the rarest and most sophisticated attacks,” said Ivan Krstić, Apple’s head of security engineering, in a press release issued today. “While the vast majority of users will never fall victim to highly targeted cyberattacks, we will work tirelessly to protect the small number of users that are.”

Apple also announced a $10 million grant to the Ford Foundation’s Dignity and Justice Fund to support organizations investigating, detecting, and preventing highly targeted cyberattacks. Apple said it will also pay any damages awarded from its lawsuit against NSO Group, creators of the spyware Pegasus.

Over the past year, Apple has started notifying users via email and iMessage notifications that they may have been targeted by government-sponsored attackers.

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