Apple Developing New “Lockdown Mode” for Phones and Tablets

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Apple has always marketed its phones, tablets, and computers as being extremely secure. Apple has famously battled government agencies over their demands to access a universal backdoor key to crack into iPhones, which Apple says would be a huge breach of privacy for its users.

Now, the company is doubling down on security once again with the introduction of a Lockdown Mode for its devices. This heavy-duty security mode is a direct response to the recent proliferation of dangerous spyware like NSO Group’s Pegasus hacking module.

Lockdown Mode will allow users targeted by industrial-strength hacking to lock their devices down to get them out of the clutches of cybercriminals. 

What Is Lockdown Mode?

Apple’s new Lockdown Mode is a new suite of security features that users will be able to activate starting in the fall. It will prevent the phone from accepting incoming FaceTime calls, deactivates link attachments in messages, stops the installation of remote backdoor software, and similar measures. This mode was designed to help users targeted by powerful hacking tools.

Recently, several human rights activists and journalists were targeted in a sweeping hacking effort to spy on their personal devices. This spurred Apple to pile resources into digital countermeasures designed to protect users from both government overreach and illegal hacking alike. 

Apple Says Security Is Paramount

“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,” explains Apple’s head of security engineering and architecture, Ivan Krstić. “Lockdown Mode is a groundbreaking capability that reflects our unwavering commitment to protecting users from even the rarest, most sophisticated attacks.”

The company says it’s also going to be donating money to fund future research into digital security. It’s upping its “bug bounty” system, a program in which it pays software developers who discover vulnerabilities in its code and then shows Apple where those bugs are. By offering programmers cold, hard cash for finding bugs, Apple hopes to discourage unscrupulous hackers from doing the same work without sharing their findings with Apple.

Attacks using the Pegasus spyware system are typically highly targeted and aimed at silent intelligence-gathering. These software systems are often used by oppressive governments to keep tabs on dissidents, so Apple’s decision to give these people access to more robust security tools could help save lives.

For most users, this level of security is overkill. For some, however, it could mean the difference between being spied on by their government or being free to communicate with friends in peace.