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Apple is developing a new “Lockdown Mode” for its iPhones, iPads and Macs. It is designed to combat industrial-grade hacking like the NSO group’s Pegasus.
Why it matters
Although these attacks affect a small group of people, the threat is growing. Pegasus was used to spy on human rights activists, lawyers, politicians and journalists around the world. Apple says it has identified similar attacks on people in 150 countries over the past eight months.
What comes next
Apple will release Lockdown Mode for free later this year and says it plans regular updates and improvements. The company has also expanded its bugs and set up a grant to encourage further research on this issue.
For several years, Apple has marketed its iPhones, iPads and Macs as the most secure and privacy-focused devices on the market. Last week, it strengthened that effort by one new feature coming this fall called Lockdown Modedesigned to combat targeted hacking attempts such as as some governments around the world. Apple also announced a $ 10 million grant and up to $ 2 million in bug money to encourage further research into this growing threat.
The technology giant said that Lockdown Mode is designed to enable “extreme” protection for their phones, such as blocking attachments and link previews in messages, potentially hackable web browsing techniques and incoming FaceTime calls from unknown numbers. Apple devices will also not accept accessory connections unless the device is unlocked, and people will not be able to install new remote management software on the devices while they are locked. The new feature is already available in test softwareand will be released for free publicly in the fall as part of , and . Here is .
“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 are,” he said. Ivan Krstić, Apple’s head of security technology and architecture, in a statement. “Lockdown Mode is a groundbreaking feature that reflects our unwavering commitment to protecting users from even the rarest, most sophisticated attacks.”
Along with the new deadlock, which Apple calls an “extreme” measure, the company announced a $ 10 million grant for The Dignity and Justice Fundestablished by the Ford Foundation, to help support human rights and combat social oppression.
The company’s efforts to improve its device security come at a time when the technology industry is increasingly confronted with targeted cyber attacks from oppressive governments around the world. Unlike widespread ransomware or virus campaigns, which are often designed to spread indiscriminately the longest and fastest through home and corporate networks, attacks like those using Pegasus are designed for silent intelligence gathering.
In September last year, Apple released a free software update thatand then that in an attempt to stop the company from developing or selling more hacking tools. They also began sending “threat messages” to potential victims of these hacking tools, which Apple calls “mercenary spyware.” The company said that although the number of people targeted in these campaigns is very small, people in about 150 countries have been notified since November.
Other technology companies have also expanded their approach to security in recent years. Google has an initiative called Advanced account protectiondesigned for “anyone at increased risk of targeted online attacks” by adding extra security layers for . Microsoft has become more and more .
Apple said it plans to expand Lockdown Mode over time, and announced oneof up to $ 2 million for people who find security holes in the new feature. At present, it is primarily designed to disable computer features that may be useful but which open people up to potential attacks. This includes turning off certain fonts, link previews, and incoming FaceTime calls from unknown accounts.
Apple representatives said the company was trying to find a balance between usability and extreme protection, adding that the company is publicly committed to strengthening and improving its functionality. In the latest iteration of Lockdown Mode, which is sent to developers in one, Apps that display web pages will follow the same restrictions that Apple’s apps follow, although people may pre-authorize certain websites to bypass locking mode if needed. People in the locked position must also unlock their device before it can connect to accessories.
Encourage more research
In addition, Apple said it hopes a planned $ 10 million grant to the Dignity and Justice Fund will help encourage more research on these issues and expand training and security audits for people who may be targeted.
“Every day we see these threats widening and deepening,” said Lori McGlinchey, director of the Ford Foundations Technology and Society program, who works with technical advisors including Apple Krstić to help manage the fund. “In recent years, state and non-state actors have used spyware to track down and intimidate human rights defenders, environmental activists and political dissidents in virtually every region of the world.”
Ron DeibertProfessor of Political Science and Head of Citizen Lab “He expects Apple’s Lockdown Mode to be a” major blow “to spyware companies and the governments that rely on their products,” said cybersecurity researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.
“We are doing everything we can, together with a number of investigative journalists working at this pace, but it has been, and it is a huge asymmetry,” he said, adding that Apple’s $ 10 million grant will help attract more work on this issue. “You have a huge industry that is very lucrative and almost completely unregulated, which benefits from huge contracts from governments that have an appetite to engage in this type of espionage.”
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