Apple has started rolling out the latest iOS 16 security feature, Lockdown mode, for the iPhone 14 series worldwide which offers additional protection to the users facing risks of targeted cyberattacks.
The iOS 16 update will bring fresh features including an interactive lock screen and the ability to edit and unsend recently sent iMessages. The new security feature of Lockdown mode will also protect iPhone users from cyberespionage tools like Pegasus.
Apple and Pegasus Spyware
Apple has marketed its iPhones as the most secure devices on the planet and it continues to do so for years.
Last year, a consortium of journalists published The Pegasus Project, which showed over 30,000 human rights activists, journalists and lawyers across the world, including in India, may have been targeted by Israel-based NSO group’s spyware Pegasus which did not spare iPhones either and attacked users through a variety of exploits including iOS zero-click zero-days.
Pegasus allows users to remotely extract a phone’s contents, tap into the camera and microphone and access calls, location information, photographs and messages without their knowledge – and without a victim even clicking on a link.
In September, though, Apple did fix a security hole that Pegasus exploited for installation on iPhones. In November, the United States took strict action by blacklisting the NSO Group, the Israeli company that created Pegasus.
This was followed by a lawsuit filed by Apple against the makers of Pegasus, accusing the NSO Group of “flagrant violations of US federal and state law,” on grounds related to the damage caused by spyware on Apple devices.
Earlier this year, a new report claimed that Pegasus was used to hack the iPhone of a Jordanian journalist in December. The hack occurred several weeks after Apple filed a suit against the Israeli company in a bid to attack its customers, according to Indian media.
The Pegasus probe shows that iPhones — or any other ‘connected’ device – are not 100 per cent secure and can potentially be hacked.
What is Lockdown Mode?
Lockdown Mode is an optional, extreme protection that’s designed for the very few individuals who, because of who they are or what they do, might be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats. Most people are never targeted by attacks of this nature, according to Apple support.
When Lockdown Mode is enabled, your device won’t function like it typically does. To reduce the attack surface that potentially could be exploited by highly targeted mercenary spyware, certain apps, websites, and features are strictly limited for security and some experiences might not be available at all.
Lockdown Mode is available in iOS 16 and coming soon in iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura.
How Lockdown Mode protects devices?
When Lockdown Mode is enabled, some apps and features will function differently, including:
- Messages – Most message attachment types are blocked, other than certain images, video, and audio. Some features, such as links and link previews, are unavailable.
- Web browsing – Certain complex web technologies are blocked, which might cause some websites to load more slowly or not operate correctly. In addition, web fonts might not be displayed, and images might be replaced with a missing image icon.
- FaceTime – Incoming FaceTime calls are blocked unless you have previously called that person or contact.
- Apple Services – Incoming invitations for Apple Services, such as invitations to manage a home in the Home app, are blocked unless you have previously invited that person.
- Shared albums – Shared albums are removed from the Photos app, and new Shared Album invitations are blocked. You can still view these shared albums on other devices that don’t have Lockdown Mode enabled.
- USB accessories – To connect your device to a USB accessory or another computer, the device needs to be unlocked.
- Configuration profiles – Configuration profiles can’t be installed, and the device can’t be enrolled in Mobile Device Management or device supervision while in Lockdown Mode.
Phone calls and plain text messages continue to work while Lockdown Mode is enabled. Emergency features, such as SOS emergency calls, are not affected.
How to enable Lockdown Mode on iPhone?
- Open the Settings app.
- Tap Privacy & Security.
- Under Security, tap Lockdown Mode and tap Turn On Lockdown Mode.
- Tap Turn On Lockdown Mode.
- Tap Turn On & Restart, then enter your device passcode.
When Lockdown Mode is enabled, you might receive notifications when an app or feature is limited, and a banner in Safari indicates that Lockdown Mode is on.
How to exclude apps or websites from Lockdown Mode?
While your device is in Lockdown Mode, you can exclude an app or website from being impacted and limited. Exclude only trusted apps or websites and only if necessary.
To exclude a website while browsing: Tap the Page Settings button > Website Settings, then turn off Lockdown Mode.
To exclude an app or to edit your excluded websites:
- Open the Settings app.
Tap Privacy & Security.
Under Security, tap Lockdown Mode.
Tap Configure Web Browsing.
To exclude an app, turn that app off in the menu. Only apps that you have opened since enabling Lockdown Mode and which have limited functionality appear on this list.
To edit your excluded websites, tap Excluded Safari Websites > Edit.
Configuration profiles and managed devices
If a device is in Lockdown Mode, new configuration profiles can’t be installed, and the device can’t be enrolled in Mobile Device Management or device supervision. If a user wants to install a configuration profile or management profile, they need to turn off Lockdown Mode, install the profile, and then re-enable Lockdown Mode, if necessary. These restrictions prevent attackers from attempting to install malicious profiles.
A device that is enrolled in Mobile Device Management before Lockdown Mode is enabled remains managed. System administrators can install and remove configuration profiles on that device.
Lockdown Mode is not a configurable option for Mobile Device Management by system administrators, as it’s designed for the very small number of individual users who might be targeted by extreme cyber attacks.
Who should enable Lockdown Mode?
The average person does not really have to worry about someone breaking into their phone and listening to their conversations or surveilling them through their phone cameras. This is why Lockdown Mode isn’t for everyone, according to Indian media.
But for journalists, human rights activists, politicians, lawyers and high-ranking officials, Lockdown Mode can make it tough for attackers or spyware makers to hack into an iPhone.
While Lockdown Mode is far from fool-proof, it’s a good sign that companies like Apple are taking steps to beef-up security on their devices and protect against malware threats.