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Apple Announces New Lockdown Mode on iOS 16 to battle spyware, cyber attacks

Apple has said that it will release a new feature called on all its devices that will protect the device owners and their data from spyware and other forms of sophisticated cyber attacks. The feature dubbed as the ‘Lockdown Mode’ will arrive on Apple devices with the roll out if iOS 16, iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura in the fall this year. Apple says that it is an ‘optional protection for the very small number of users who face grave, targeted threats to their digital security’ from spyware firms such as the the NSO Group and state-sponsored mercenary spyware.

What is Apple’s Lockdown Mode and how does it work?

Lockdown Mode will, as the name goes, in a literal lockdown wherein capabilities of the Apple devices will be severely limited sharply reducing the possibility of a cyber attack. Apple says that when Lockdown Mode is enabled on a device, most message attachment types other than images will be blocked and some features such as link previews will be disabled.

The company also said that certain complex web technologies, such as just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation, will be disabled unless the user excludes a trusted site from Lockdown Mode. Apart from this, the company will also block incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, if the user has not previously sent the initiator a call or request.

Additionally, the company said that wired connections with a computer or accessory will be blocked when an iPhone is locked. Also, users will not be able to install configuration profiles and the device will not be able to enroll into mobile device management (MDM), when Lockdown Mode is turned on.

Doubling down on bug bounties and grants

Apart from introducing a new mode for Apple device owners, the company has also established a new category within the Apple Security Bounty program to reward researchers who find Lockdown Mode bypasses and help improve its protections. “Bounties are doubled for qualifying findings in Lockdown Mode, up to a maximum of $2,000,000 — the highest maximum bounty payout in the industry,” the company wrote in a press release.

Additionally, Apple is making a $10 million grant, in addition to any damages awarded from the lawsuit filed against NSO Group, to support organisations that investigate, expose, and prevent highly targeted cyberattacks, including those created by private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware. This grant will be made to the Dignity and Justice Fund established by the Ford Foundation and it will focus on supporting the development of standardised forensic methods to detect and confirm spyware infiltration that meet evidentiary standards; enabling civil society to more effectively partner with device manufacturers, software developers, commercial security firms, and other relevant companies to identify and address vulnerabilities; increasing awareness among investors, journalists, and policymakers about the global mercenary spyware industry; and building the capacity of human rights defenders to identify and respond to spyware attacks, including security audits for organisations that face heightened threats to their networks.

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