Hands On With Lockdown Mode in iOS 16: A new Apple function called Lockdown Mode is one you should hope you never have to use. But for those who do, such as reporters, lawmakers, attorneys, and human rights advocates, it serves as a final line of defense against nation-state spyware intended to get beyond an iPhone’s security measures.
Earlier this year, a new security feature was introduced as an “extreme” degree of defense against spyware developers who were progressively coming up with techniques to remotely hack into iPhones without the involvement of the user. These so-called zero-click assaults are imperceptible and take advantage of flaws in fundamental iPhone functions including calling, messaging, and web browsing.
As they are found, frequently by security researchers who detect evidence of spyware on victims’ phones, Apple patches vulnerabilities. Although thousands of journalists, campaigners, and human rights advocates have been the target of spyware in recent years, Apple and its creators are still on the run from them.
What is Lockdown Mode?
With Lockdown Mode, Apple is enabling users to quickly disable several of the most frequently used device capabilities and restart the device, making it far more difficult for spyware to access your private phone data. In other words, “sharpening the attack surface that potentially may be exploited by highly targeted mercenary spyware,” as Apple puts it. Using an iPhone running iOS 16’s public beta, which contains the new option, TechCrunch tested Lockdown Mode.
After a few disclaimers and a device restart, Lockdown Mode begins to operate. It may be turned off again through the Settings menu. We didn’t find using our iPhone in Lockdown Mode to be particularly restrictive or unpleasant, despite the mode’s limitations on what you can do and who may contact you (which is the price to pay for having a far more secure iPhone).
The goal is to block as many internet entry points into your iPhone, iPad, or Mac as you can without significantly impairing its usability. This entails barring calls and messages from strangers so that only those you know can contact you. According to the adage, “your mileage may vary,” and your experience may change depending on your demands.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Lockdown Mode is that it disables text message link previews, which can reveal a person’s IP address to reveal their identity. You can still copy and paste the website address into your browser because the mode only blocks the preview and not the link itself. The user will experience a brief discomfort as a result, but attackers will find it much harder to enter areas where they have previously been successful.
Lockdown Mode also alters the functionality of the Safari browser by turning off some features that can have an impact on certain websites or destroy others. Some websites may not render correctly or may not load at all if they depend on more sophisticated web technologies in your browsers, such as web-based fonts and just-in-time compilers that make websites load faster.
When the functionality is activated, Safari displays the phrase “Lockdown Mode.” You can see that TechCrunch loads reasonably quickly and that the browser falls back on built-in fonts if it is unable to download fonts from the internet, somewhat altering the page’s appearance. In Lockdown Mode, you can still mark some websites as “trusted,” which allows you to get around the limitations on websites you are confident are secure.
Before and After
When a function is disabled, such as Shared Photos, which inexplicably vanishes from your phone while it is in Lockdown Mode, your device usually does an excellent job of warning the user before it takes effect. You’ll notice that when Lockdown Mode is on, you are unable to accept FaceTime calls from individuals you have never spoken to over FaceTime. That’s made to guard against zero-click assaults that take advantage of flaws in FaceTime and iMessage, which spyware developers like NSO Group and Candiru are known to use.
Additionally, you shouldn’t open any files or documents that are attached to emails because they can be infected with malware. While Lockdown Mode is active, you won’t get invites to utilize Apple services like calendars and notes from strangers, and you can’t install new configuration profiles to join brand-new work or school networks because those could be used by malicious parties to remotely manage a person’s computer.
However, it also disables wired connections to your device, making it impossible for anyone with physical access to your phone or computer to download its contents using phone-cracking technology.
iOS 16 beta 3 is now live with Lockdown Mode pic.twitter.com/w00OiCBFJ1
— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) July 6, 2022
The majority of the features that are disabled or restricted make it more difficult for attackers or spyware developers to remotely hack into an iPhone over the internet or cellular network. Lockdown Mode may be Apple’s covert acknowledgment that, like no company, it is unable to defend against every spyware producer or malware threat. But rather than downplaying the issue, it shows that it is being addressed. Later this year, Lockdown Mode will be introduced in iOS 16 and macOS Ventura.
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