Apple launches Lockdown Mode, to defend against spyware

Apple lancia Lockdown Mode, per difendere dagli spyware thumbnail

Apple announced a new ‘extreme’ defense measure against spyware: Lockdown Mode, the isolation mode. That takes a number of steps to make it harder for hackers to track your movements, read your messages. But the measure is so drastic that it will affect only a small percentage of Apple users: diplomats, politicians and those who run the risk of being spied on by a rival nation.

Apple introduces Lockdown Mode, an extreme security measure against spyware

Defending yourself from spyware developed to target your smartphone becomes an almost impossible job. These types of attacks affect a very small percentage of the population. High-level diplomats, political dissidents, lawyers from international organizations. But because of the role these people play, the damage can be vast.

Apple has had to accept this reality in recent months. Last summer we discovered that spyware, developed by the security company NSO Group, it had hit several Western diplomats and politicians. Apple at the time reassured iPhone users that this type of spyware affects a tiny slice of the population.

But then in November he denounced NSO Group publicly and started developing a possible solution. The one he announced with the nome Lockdown Mode.

Limit the attack surface

There is still a need to defend against spyware tailor-made by security companies. Only in April did we discover that five EU officers had been spied on (albeit until last September). But Apple explained that there are no simple solutions: companies like NSO Group they use software that does not need user interactions, which also attacks recently updated devices.

A different approach is needed: limiting the attack surface. “Lockdown Mode offers an extreme and optional level of security for the very few users who, because of who they are and what they do, could be personally targeted by the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those of the NSO Group and other private companies that develop state-sponsored mercenary spyware “ the company explained.

“Activating Lockdown Mode on iOS 16, iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura strengthens the device’s defenses and strictly limits certain features, drastically reducing the surface which could potentially be exploited by highly accurate mercenary spyware ”.

lockdown mode iphone isolation mode apple security min

What are Apple’s Lockdown Mode security measures?

Reducing the attack surface means blocking some functionality. What it spyware could use it to monitor your movements and correspondence. In summary, Apple will limit several functions in Lockdown Mode such as:

  • Messages: almost all attachments that are not images are blocked. Some features will no longer be there, such as link previews
  • Web browsing: some web technologies will be limited. For example JIT (Just-In-Time) Javascript, which improve performance by compiling code more dynamically, but which some malware exploits to obtain special access. However, you can exclude some trusted sites.
  • Serves us Apple and app: some invitations and requests will be blocked. For example, you will not be able to receive FaceTime calls from numbers that you have not already called or invited.
  • USB connections: if the phone is locked, you cannot connect it to the computer. Nor use other wired accessories.
  • Management: you cannot instill profile configurations or enter Mobile Device Management, which could be used to install proprietary software and more

Limits, for the safety of a few

Apple makes it clear that this feature isn’t meant for everyone. It includes strict limits that diminish the experience with your iPhone or Mac, something Apple would rather avoid. But for those few who need to raise the security level, compromises are acceptable.

lockdown mode iphone isolation mode apple min

Hoping that a highly resourceful hacker spying company fails to ‘get into’ your device seems too optimistic. But by reducing the possibility of spyware expansionyou will make it more difficult for the spies to work and have a better chance of stopping them.

Apple has gone from saying that mercenary spyware affects a tiny percentage of its customers to showing they are developing solutions because of that small part. But it does not sell miracles: these measures they trip hackers but can’t stop them completely. We also expect other companies (Google per Android, Microsoft per Windows) will soon launch their own version of this feature, although they have been less involved in the media by the NSO Group scandal. To give an extreme security option for all its users, even those most at risk of spyware.