Recently, Apple announced a huge change to the iPhone security by introducing the “Lockdown Mode” feature which will make it harder for avaricious spyware firms such as the Pegasus-maker NSO Labs to hack into iPhones.
Pegasus, a tool created by NSO Group to be used in the fight against criminals, was discovered on the phones of Khashoggi’s friends and family after the journalist was assassinated in 2018.
In order to gain access in 2019, Pegasus used a brand-new security flaw on iPhones. Regardless of whether the target picked up the call from the attacker’s WhatsApp call, Pegasus was already set up and prepared to hack.
Once it has access to an iPhone, it can eavesdrop on everything, including your phone chats and your images. However, requests like this are automatically denied in Lockdown Mode, completely eliminating the risk.
This major development comes after several private malware firms for finding zero-day flaws and allowing their clients — mostly government agencies and authorities to hack into the devices of renowned journalists, activists, dissidents, etc.
The “Lockdown Mode” feature will be available by late 2022 along with iOS 16 which is most likely to arrive sometime this September or October. This feature will mark its debut alongside the launch of the iPhone 14 series.
The “Lockdown Mode” will be available for iPhones, iPads, and Mac devices.
Lockdown Mode is “the first major capability of its sort,” according to Apple.
In the past, Apple released security patches for iOS 14 months after iOS 15 was released. While not all iOS 15 vulnerabilities were fixed with iOS 14, most iPhone owners can rest easy. You needed iOS 15 to protect your iPhone because iOS 14 was no longer being updated by Apple.
Lockdown mode & its features
The “Lockdown Mode” feature will restrict the smartphone features that could potentially be accessed by surveillance software, which will lessen the attack surface for hackers on these handsets.
Apple declared that it would keep on updating the “Lockdown Mode” in the future.
Commenting on this new feature, Nalin Rawat who is a tech writer at Fossbytes said, “Apple has always made personal security one of its biggest priorities. Now they have gone one step further with the lockdown mode and added an extreme layer of security for those who need it. It is definitely not targeted toward the everyday user, but at those who need the highest level of security like VIPs and high-level executives.”
When asked about his expectations regarding the ‘Lockdown Mode’ feature, he said, “It’s a good feature in terms of limiting the security vulnerabilities of your system. Many users don’t know how their devices could be exploited. So it limits some functions to keep the risk to a minimum. Which is a fair trade.”
How it works
By limiting some functions that may be vulnerable to online attacks, such as message attachments other than photos and link preview, Lockdown Mode allegedly improves security features on iOS.
“The mode offers an “extreme optional” level of security for very few people, due to who they are or what they do, maybe personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats,” according to Apple’s statement.
Speaking on this, Preeti Dargan who has been using Apple products for the past five years, said, “This is a pretty good step from Apple’s side.”
When asked if she is looking forward to trying this new feature when it comes out, she said, “For curiosity purposes, I’ll explore this feature but since I don’t have any threat from anyone I might not be needing this feature in the long run.”
Another Apple user, Geeta Vadera, who is a huge fan of Apple devices and is likely to buy the upcoming Apple iPhone 14 device, said, “I can’t wait to try out this new feature. Although I don’t face any threat from anyone, trying out how this feature works would be a nice change.”
When this mode is activated, users won’t receive any requests for FaceTime calls from strangers. Additionally, Shared Albums will be eliminated, and any wired connections between the phone and an accessory will be blocked.
This mode also prevents customers from installing Apple’s public betas and signing up for mobile device management.
Sudeep Budki, Founder and Editor of The Mobile Indian, too believes that “lockdown Mode is not meant for the masses rather it will be useful for those individuals who handle sensitive data and are prone to highly sophisticated cyber-attacks.”
Here’s how you can enable this mode
Currently, only Apple devices running iOS 16, iPadOS 16, or macOS Ventura can access Lockdown Mode. iOS 16 is now available as a developer beta, but customers expect it to be launched in September.
Lockdown Mode is simple to access for users who have already downloaded the iOS 16 developer beta. Simply navigate to Settings > Privacy & Security > Lockdown Mode to start.
To initiate the mode, they simply need to press the Turn on & Restart button. Users will then see the Lockdown Mode Enabled banner in Safari after the phone reboots, indicating that the mode has been active and is prepared to protect their iPhone from internet assaults.
Here’s how you can disable this mode
Users only need to navigate to Settings > Privacy & Security > Lockdown Option to turn off the mode. They must now select Turn off Lockdown Mode.
Their iPhone will restart once more, and they can use it just like any other iPhone.
Latest announcements of Apple
Apple also disclosed a USD 10 million grant for organizations that investigate, expose, and prevent highly targeted cyberattacks, including those produced by private companies creating state-sponsored mercenary spyware, in addition to the Lockdown Mode and any damages awarded from the lawsuit brought against NSO Group.
The grant will go to the Ford Foundation-funded Dignity and Justice Fund, which will be advised by it and expected to issue its first grants in late 2022 or early 2023.
It will initially provide funding for strategies that aim to protect potential targets and reveal mercenary spyware.
Recent targets of spyware
In July 2021, a global coalition of media outlets reported that many governments across the globe had employed spyware to snoop on political opponents, journalists, businesspeople, etc.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, political strategist Prashant Kishor, the current Information and Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw (who wasn’t the minister at the time), the then-Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, and a number of other well-known individuals were listed as potential targets in the Indian leg of the investigation. The list included information on about 40 journalists.
When asked if he thinks that Apple’s “Lockdown Mode” on iPhone will be a huge blow to spyware attacks, Nalin said, “The lockdown will certainly decrease the number of spyware attack victims. However, there will still be ways that attackers will be able to use social engineering and phishing attacks through social media.”
Budki opinioned that he doesn’t expect normal iPhone users to use this upcoming new feature except for a few enthusiastic ones.
“Lockdown Mode has been conceived and designed to fight highly sophisticated cyber-attacks, advanced hacking, and targeted spyware for users who are in high-risk jobs or are always under scrutiny for their work. They can benefit from this solution but it will come at a cost. I am of the opinion that normal users of the iPhone will never use this feature except for trying it out once to get a hang of it,” he concluded.
To conclude, Apple has been known to offer updates for older operating systems when an iPhone vulnerability was deemed to be sufficiently serious. For instance, the weakness that permitted “zero-click” Pegasus attacks was corrected in iOS 12.5.5. But this is a rare occurrence. You must be using the most recent iOS version in order to stay safe.