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Apple announces a new lockdown mode to fight the next Pegasus spyware

What’s happening

Apple will offer a new “lock mode” for its iPhones, iPads and Macs. It is designed to combat hacking campaigns and targeted spyware such as the NSO Group’s Pegasus.

Why is it important

Although these attacks happen to a small group of people, the threat is increasing. It found Pegasus was used by repressive governments to spy on human rights defenders, lawyers, politicians and journalists.

What’s next

Apple plans to release Lockdown Mode for free later this year and is publicly committed to further improving it. The company has also expanded error awards and grant programs to encourage more research into the problem.

For years, Apple has promoted its iPhones, iPads and Macs as the most secure and privacy-focused devices on the market. He strengthened this effort on Wednesday with a new feature coming this fall called lock modedesigned to combat targeted hacking attempts such as Pegasus malwarewhich oppressive governments reportedly used on human rights workers, lawyers, politicians and journalists. A $ 10 million grant and up to $ 2 million error reward were also announced to encourage more research into such threats.

The tech giant said Lockdown Mode is intended to add extra security to its phones, such as blocking attachments and previewing links in messages, potentially hackable web browsing technologies, and incoming FaceTime calls from unknown numbers. Apple devices will also not accept connections to accessories unless the device is unlocked, and people cannot install new remote management software on the devices while they are also in lock mode. The new function will be made available for the test software used by developers this summer and released for free to the public in the fall.

“While the vast majority of users will never fall victim to highly targeted cyber attacks, we will work tirelessly to protect a small number of users,” said Ivan KrsticApple’s head of engineering and security architecture said in a statement. “Lockdown Mode is a groundbreaking feature that reflects our unwavering commitment to protecting users from even the rarest, most sophisticated attacks.”

Apple designed Lock Mode so that you can easily turn it on via the settings app on your devices.

Apple

Along with a new lockdown mode that Apple calls the “extreme” measure, the company announced a $ 10 million grant to Dignity and Justice Fundwhich was set up by the Ford Foundation to support human rights and fight social repression.

The company’s efforts to increase device security are taking place at a time as the tech industry is increasingly confronted with targeted cyber attacks by oppressive governments around the world. Unlike widespread ransomware or viral campaigns, which are often designed to spread indiscriminately the farthest and fastest in homes and corporate networks, attacks such as those involving Pegasus are designed to silently gather information.

People need to restart their devices before lockdown mode can go into effect.

Apple

Last September, Apple shipped a free software update that he turned to Pegasusand then this defendant NSO Group to stop the company from developing or selling more hacking tools. It has also started sending “threat notifications” to potential victims of these hacking tools Apple calls “mercenary spyware.” The company said that while the number of people targeted by these campaigns is very small, it has notified people in around 150 countries as of November.

Other tech companies have also expanded their approach to security in recent years. Google has an initiative called Advanced account protectiontargets “anyone who is at increased risk of targeted online attacks” by adding additional layers of security to logins and downloads. Microsoft is getting more and more works on dropping passwords.

Apple said it plans to extend Lockdown Mode over time, and announced reward for error up to $ 2 million for those who find security vulnerabilities in the new feature. For now, it’s mainly intended to disable computer functions that might be helpful but open people up to potential attacks. This includes disabling some fonts, link previews, and incoming FaceTime calls from unknown accounts.

Apple officials said the company has struggled to strike a balance between usability and extreme security, adding that the company is publicly pledging to strengthen and improve the feature. In the most recent iteration of Lock Mode, which is sent to developers in upcoming test software update, apps that view web pages will be subject to the same restrictions as Apple apps, although people can pre-approve certain websites to bypass lockdown mode if necessary. People in lock mode will also need to unlock their device before it connects to accessories.

Encourage further research

In addition, Apple said it hoped the planned $ 10 million grant to the Dignity and Justice Fund would help encourage more research on these issues and expand training and security audits for those who may be targeted.

“Every day we see these threats widen and deepen,” said Lori McGlinchey, director of the Ford Foundation’s Technology and Society program, which works with technical advisers, including Apple’s Krstic, to help guide 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 director Citizens’ laboratory Cybersecurity researchers at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto said they expect Apple’s lockdown mode to be a “serious blow” to spyware companies and governments that rely on their products. “

“We’re doing everything we can, along with the many investigative journalists who are working on this beat, but that’s about it, and it’s a huge asymmetry,” he said, adding that the $ 10 million grant would help attract more work on the issue. . “You have a huge industry that is very lucrative and almost completely unregulated, profiting from huge government contracts that have an appetite to engage in this kind of espionage.”

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