Apple’s new Lockdown Mode aims to protect iPhones against targeted attacks

Apple calls Lockdown Mode an "extreme" option for journalists, politicians and other likely targets of spyware

Apple announced a new security feature coming to iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura called ‘Lockdown Mode,’ which hardens security on Apple devices to protect against targeted attacks like Pegasus.

Detailed in a release from Apple, Lockdown Mode is an “extreme, optional level of security” for users who may be targeted by “sophisticated digital threats” because of who they are or what they do. For example, journalists and politicians are likely targets. When enabled, Lockdown Mode offers the following protections:

  • Blocks most message attachment types other than images and disables features like link previews.
  • Disables certain complex web technologies, like just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation (unless users exclude a trusted site).
  • Restricts incoming invitations and service requests, like FaceTime calls, unless the user previously sent the call initiator an invite or call.
  • Blocks wired connections with computers and accessories from locked iPhones.
  • Blocks installation of configuration profiles.
  • Prevents enrolling devices into mobile device management (MDM) while Lockdown Mode is enabled.

Apple says these will be supported at launch and the company plans to continue strengthening Lockdown Mode going forward. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman noted on Twitter that Lockdown Mode is available in the latest iOS 16 Developer Beta.

Lockdown mode on iPhone

Lockdown mode on iPhone | Image credit: Apple

Alongside Lockdown Mode, Apple announced a new category for its Apple Security Bounty program, offering up to $2 million USD (about $2.6 million CAD) for Lockdown Mode bypasses. Additionally, the company announced a $10 million USD (about $13 million CAD) grant to the Dignity and Justice Fund to support organizations that investigate, expose, and prevent highly-targeted cyberattacks. Apple also said it would include any damages awarded from the lawsuit filed against NSO Group, the company behind Pegasus.

Ron Deibert, a professor of political science and the director of Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto, will be one of the initial members of the Technical Advisory Committee to advise the Dignity and Justice Fund’s grant-making strategy. Citizen Lab uncovered one of the flaws linked to Pegasus. You can find a full list of committee members here.

The Verge notes that security researchers previously criticized Apple for not working closely with them to find and fix flaws in its platforms. Apple has since launched and expanded a bug bounty program and said it would distribute security research devices.

You can learn more about Lockdown Mode here.