Tech giant Apple recently announced an upcoming feature called “Lockdown Mode” that will likely debut in September 2022, along with iOS 16 and Mac OS Ventura. The new feature aims to add an extra layer of protection for “high-risk” individuals, such as journalists, human rights activists, political figures, and dissidents, thereby keeping them safe from targeted hacking attempts.
The announcement was made in early July when Apple sued Israeli spyware firm NSO Group for exploiting software flaws in iOS and remotely breaking into iPhones across the globe. Apple revealed that the firm called NSO Group had been spying on Apple users in at least 150 countries, some of which included high-profile American journalists and diplomats.
The Isreal based NSO Group and three similar spyware firms were then sanctioned by the U.S. Government for selling technology that was used to break into people’s phones. These groups have sold sophisticated hacking tech to government-backed groups who have subsequently hacked into both iPhones and Android devices across the U.S. and abroad.
Apple faced backlash for failing to protect its users’ sensitive information. Although Apple insists that this spyware only affects a handful of high-profile users, Apple will roll out a protective feature for everyone to use. Lockdown Mode was created specifically to provide extreme security to US and Foreign based professionals vulnerable to cyberattacks by foreign governments. But there’s no arguing that the additional layer of security will make even the average iPhone user feel safer. So, let’s explore more in detail about the new Lockdown Mode in this article, but first let’s clarify your concepts around the spyware attack.
Foreign Government Spyware Attacking Principle
Spyware is essentially a form of malware that can invade your device and track your activity. It’s usually deployed by a third party to gather data from your device without being seen.
If your device has been compromised, the spyware program will collect every bit of information related to your activities. For example, your credit card info, online banking logins, other passwords, browsing activity, and more will all be tracked and passed along to the spyware company. In its least harmful form, this information is used to send targeted ads and make money off of consumers. Similarly, in its most harmful form, it can be used to hunt down individuals and physically harm them, or leak sensitive information that can hurt nations.
Spyware works in a multitude of ways. One of these is by recording your keystrokes as you type in secret information into apps. Another way is by hacking your webcam or mic, which is why so many people keep their laptop cameras covered at all times. Spyware can also pave the way for invasive pop-ups to show on your devices, slowing down your system and making it hard to use.
On principle, there are four major types of spyware that you can expect to see:
These usually collect your information for advertisement purposes and track your browser activity to do so. Tracking cookies are present on nearly every website you visit and you usually can’t access the website until you agree to be tracked.
These are software programs or apps that masquerade as something else. You could download what you believe is an essential security update only to find that you’ve downloaded spyware that will track your activity.
This is a kind of spyware that specifically records your browsing history and downloads. It then sends you targeted adverts on various online platforms.
4. Monitoring Software
This type of spyware tracks your movements as you type on your device or enter data through a keyboard. It also records your emails, software programs, and activity across websites.
Apple New Lockdown Mode and Spyware Attacks
Apple’s Lockdown Mode is intended to be used by people who may find themselves at risk of complex and sophisticated cyberattacks. Apple has stated that not everyone needs to use this mode because once turned on, it makes a lot of apps and websites inaccessible because it strives to protect the user from any and all spyware.
Below are the protections users can expect to see when they turn on Lockdown Mode:
- Apple service requests, invites, FaceTime calls, and more will be automatically blocked if the user has not authorized these in advance.
- Message attachments, like voice notes, scribbles, and others, will be blocked. Similarly, link sharing and others will be disabled until the user allows them.
- User won’t be able to install configuration profiles or access mobile device management (MDM) unless the user turns off the Lockdown Mode.
- Wired connectivity with a computer or other device will be disabled until allowed by the user.
These are just some of the initial features that Apple has promised. It will continue to work on adding additional protections with time and feedback. To do so, Apple has set a new category in the Apple Security Bounty program where it will give rewards to people who can bypass Lockdown Mode and expose security flaws. Apple will also give a $10 million grant to organizations that expose and prevent highly-targeted cyberattacks.
Wrapping Up – Lockdown Mode a Smart Move by Apple
Spyware can be a bit of a murky issue, as third parties have been finding new ways to access user information for years, often bypassing legal restrictions to do so. Many times, users can end up agreeing to share information without knowing the risks they are exposing themselves to. Even a seemingly simple act like accepting cookies on a website can expose users to scams and other harmful activity.
Apple’s Lockdown Mode aims to take the pressure off of individuals who want to protect highly sensitive data. Moreover, the feature will also be useful for users who want to have increased privacy. This is a smart move by Apple because the world is already moving towards decentralized tech, from blockchain to a possible Web 3.0, over increasing concerns about data safety and privacy. Users will be able to access Lockdown Mode with the release of iOS 16.