Apple's latest feature adds 'extreme' protection to your devices

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Highlights

Block mode is for people who may be targeted by state-sponsored spyware, but anyone can use it.

Apple is taking steps to increase the safety of people like journalists, activists, and politicians with a new setting in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura called Lockdown Mode. This setting strengthens the defenses of an iPhone, iPad, or Mac in a way that disrupts methods we've seen used to compromise devices for highly targeted attacks.

Blocking mode blocks many types of message attachments, disables link previews, disables certain web browsing technologies by default, blocks invitations and FaceTime calls from unknown sources, and blocks wired connections to computers or accessories. At the same time, the device is locked and disables the ability to add new configuration profiles or enroll in mobile device management (MDM).

These are the areas we know may be vulnerable, as Google's Project Zero team detailed how the iPhones of people targeted by Pegasus software could be compromised in a "zero-click" scenario by using a GIF to exploit iMessage in the background. Other attacks have repeatedly targeted MDM solutions or used malicious websites to exploit rendering flaws, and lockdown mode closes those doors in the first place.

Apple calls it an "extreme and optional" level of protection which is a clear response to the growing use of state-sponsored mercenary software, such as the Pegasus tool developed by the NSO Group. Evidence of the software has been found on the devices of journalists such as Jamal Khashoggi. According to Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, Apple has just released iOS 16 Developer Beta 3, which includes Lockdown Mode.

According to Apple's head of security engineering and architecture, Ivan Krstić, "While the vast majority of users will never be the victims of highly targeted cyberattacks, we will work tirelessly to protect the small number of users who are. That includes continuing to design defenses specifically for these users, as well as supporting researchers and organizations around the world doing critically important work in exposing mercenary companies that create these digital attacks."

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