Apple announces a “lockdown mode” on its devices to combat spyware

Enhanced security settings that can be activated with a click to protect against the worst spyware: this is the news that Apple announced for its devices on Wednesday, July 6th.

The manufacturer of smartphones, tablets and computers, whose software security flaws have previously been exploited by the elite spyware Pegasus, has decided from the autumn to put a “lock mode” (“isolation mode” in French) is supposed to prevent infections with the most advanced spyware.

This will have a direct operating cost as some will become inactive. It will be impossible to receive, via SMS, attachments such as images, while previewing links via SMS will also be disabled. The user will also not be able to receive a video call via Apple’s Facetime technology from a new correspondent: there must have been a prior exchange (message or call). Some advanced web browsing features will also be disabled.

This is explained by the fact that calls, receiving attachments or web browsing, for example, are particularly vulnerable. to computer vulnerabilities and therefore to malicious software entry points. Until recently, Pegasus spyware, manufactured by the NSO Group, exploited the flaws in Apple’s SMS system to infect iPhones.

Also read: Article reserved for our subscribers “Project Pegasus”: how the Israeli company NSO Group revolutionized espionage

If this feature allows ” an extreme level of security » can be activated by all users, Apple estimates that it primarily concerns “the very few users who, because of who they are or what they do, can be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from the NSO Group and other private companies developing spyware on behalf of states”.

Apple is forced to downgrade its service

To ensure the robustness of its “lockdown mode”, Apple has also announced that it will double the bonuses for hackers who find bugs in it and communicate them to it. Apple promises these “ethical hackers” up to two million dollars in rewards.

In the cave, this new state also says a bit about Apple’s powerlessness over these spyware retailers and their hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development. In fact, the company is forced to offer an optimal level of security to degrade its service to protect its most vulnerable users.

This form of enhanced protection is an extra notch in the standoff that the company has entered into with the NSO Group. Since the fall of 2021, the company has started notifying its users when they have reason to believe that they have been hit by sophisticated spyware, especially Pegasus. Apple took advantage of the press conference presenting the “lockdown mode” to indicate that messages had been sent to its users in more than 150 countries, without specifying the total number of alerts. Rationale given by the company: the lawsuit that currently opposes the NSO Group. Apple has rightly handed over the Israeli company to the US courts, and in particular seeks to ban the use of all devices and services of the Apple brand.

also read Pegasus: Apple files a complaint against NSO Group, a manufacturer of spyware

Apple has already promised to pay the damages they could charge to organizations working to detect and combat malicious software. The company intends to anticipate this potential payment with an initial $ 10 million check given to the Dignity and Justice Foundation under the Ford Foundation, a US philanthropic organization that was to announce its first funding in the fight against spyware later in early 2023.

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