Apple’s Lockdown Mode Combats State-Sponsored Spyware

Apple is previewing a new security capability for its upcoming iOS 16 release that is designed to help high-value targets fend off state-sponsored cyberattacks. Politicians, journalists, industrial leaders can all benefit from Lockdown Mode, says Apple, which also shared details of a $10 million research grant to help civil society organizations battle mercenary spyware threats. Emphasizing Lockdown Mode is “an extreme, optional protection for the very small number of users who face grave, targeted threats to their digital security,” Apple says it will debut this fall, including for the iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura.

“The surveillance-for-hire industry has emerged in recent years as a very real threat to activists, dissidents, journalists and human rights defenders around the world, as vendors offer increasingly invasive and effective spyware to governments,” writes Wired. “The most sophisticated of these tools, like NSO Group’s notorious Pegasus spyware, target victims’ smartphones using rare and sophisticated exploits to compromise Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile operating systems.”

Turning on Lockdown Mode, an alternate operating system, will further harden device defenses and strictly limit certain functionalities, detailed in the company’s news announcement, thus “sharply reducing the attack surface that potentially could be exploited by highly targeted mercenary spyware.” Apple does not expect its average customers will need the new feature.

Apple is making a $10 million grant to the Dignity and Justice Fund established and advised by the Ford Foundation for research and activism that combats mercenary spyware. Apple will also donate any damages it receives from a lawsuit it filed in November against the Israel-based NSO Group.

Arguing that “Apple’s lawsuit should be dismissed,” the NSO Group says it is “immune from such lawsuits as an agent of foreign governments,” reports The Wall Street Journal. In a suit Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp brought against NSO Group in 2019, a federal appeals court ruled that “immunity protections don’t extend to foreign companies.”