New Delhi: Last week, Apple began rolling out the latest iOS 16 software update to millions of iPhones, coinciding with the worldwide release of the iPhone 14 series. iOS 16 introduces several new features, including an interactive lock screen and the ability to edit and unsend recently sent iMessages. However, while many of the new features introduced with iOS 16 aren’t tailored to users, a new security feature called “Lockdown” mode provides additional protection to Apple device owners who may be vulnerable to targeted cyberattacks. But what exactly is the iPhone’s new lockdown mode, and what does it do to protect users from cyber espionage tools like Pegasus?
Apple has long promoted its iPhones as the world’s most secure gadgets, and it still does so today. However, a group of journalists last year published The Pegasus Project, which revealed that the spyware Pegasus from the Israel-based NSO group may have targeted over 30,000 human rights activists, journalists, and lawyers worldwide, including those in India.
The malware targeted users using a number of exploits, including several iOS zero-click zero-days, and did not spare iPhones. Pegasus enables users to access a phone’s contents remotely, hack into the camera and microphone, and gain access to calls, location data, photos, and messages without the victim’s knowledge or even the victim clicking on a link.
Pegasus was allegedly used to hack the iPhone of a Jordanian journalist in December, according to a fresh report from earlier this year. A few weeks after Apple sued the Israeli business in an effort to harm its customers, the hack happened.
The Pegasus investigation demonstrates that iPhones—or any other ‘connected’ device—are not completely secure and may be compromised.
Apple unveiled a new “lockdown” mode feature as part of the iOS 16 operating system at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June, despite the fact that the company is still engaged in legal conflict with the NSO Group.
Lockdown mode is a security feature that provides an additional layer of security to users who run the risk of being targeted by Pegasus and other sophisticated advanced spyware. It is now available with iOS 16 and will launch on iPads and Macs later this year. Many iPhone features are disabled when Lockdown is activated, which Apple refers to as “extreme,” as a trade-off for such a security feature.
For instance, when users turn off link previews in text messages while temporarily enabling Lockdown mode on their phones, it hides a person’s anonymity by obtaining their IP addresses. Users can still copy and paste the website address into their browser because the feature only blocks the preview of a link, not the actual link. Lockdown mode also turns off some Safari features that might have an impact on specific websites.
It’s possible that some sophisticated web technologies in your browser, such as web-based fonts and just-in-time compilers that speed up website loading, won’t render correctly or won’t load at all. You’ll notice that if the user hasn’t already called or requested FaceTime from the initiator, you can’t receive FaceTime calls from contacts when Lockdown mode is activated. While Lockdown Mode is activated, you won’t get invitations to use Apple services like calendars and notes from people you’ve never spoken to before.
Users can enable Lockdown Mode on their iPhones running iOS 16, which is rolling out and is available for a free download if they believe they may be the target of a spyware attack. The Settings app’s Privacy and Security section are where you’ll find lockdown mode. When users choose Lockdown Mode, their iPhone restarts and some features are disabled. When you open Safari, a Lockdown Enabled should be visible at the top of the page, indicating that Lockdown Mode is activated. You can disable Lockdown Mode through the Settings menu if you’d like to do so, as this option is a temporary way to disable iPhone features that hackers might exploit.