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Apple to protect high-profile users with new “Lockdown Mode” for iPhones, iPads and Macs

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Apple today announced that it will add a new feature called “Lockdown Mode” to the iPhone, iPad and Mac. Developed to prevent attackers from exploiting a vulnerability discovered in Apple’s software, at least two Israeli companies have already exploited this vulnerability and were able to hack into iPhone devices remotely without the user of the target iPhone tapped a button on the screen.
The Pegasus software, which can be used for such an attack, uses GIFs to abuse iMessages. Pegasus developers have been sued by Apple and placed on a US blacklist. Security researchers believe the vulnerability lies in the way Apple’s software handles message attachments. Therefore, enabling “Lockdown Mode” blocks most attachments sent to iPhone’s messaging app.
In addition to blocking message attachments, enabling “Lockdown Mode” blocks link previews, invites and blocks Face Time calls from unknown senders. It will also disable certain web browser technology by default, close wired connections to computers, and more. The feature is reportedly intended to protect people in highly visible jobs who could be targeted by spyware; such positions include politicians, activists and journalists.

Some state-sponsored activities include taking advantage of vulnerabilities in software used by popular mobile devices, including the iPhone. Apple points out that “Lockdown Mode is an extreme optional protection that should only be used if you believe you are personally the target of a highly sophisticated cyber-attack. Most people never become the target of attacks of this nature.”

Apple adds, “If the iPhone is in lock mode, it will not work as usual. Apps, websites, and features are strictly limited for security, and some experiences will be completely unavailable.

Ivan Krstić, Apple’s Head of Security Engineering and Architecture, said: “Apple makes the most secure mobile devices on the market. Lockdown mode is a breakthrough capability that reflects our unwavering commitment to protecting users from even the rarest, most sophisticated attacks. While the vast majority of users will never fall victim to highly targeted cyberattacks, we will work tirelessly to protect the small number of users that do.”

Krstić continued, adding, “That includes continuing to design defenses specifically for these users, as well as supporting researchers and organizations around the world who are doing critically important work exposing mercenaries who create these digital attacks.”

The new feature is optional for iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura users. Apple says that over time it will strengthen the capabilities of “Lockdown Mode” and add more protection for users.

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