Apple launches iPhone Lockdown Mode to protect users from targeted spyware: how it works

Apple Lockdown Mode is finally enabled in iOS 16 beta 3.

Highlights
  • iOS 16 beta 3 brings the much talked-about ‘Lockdown Mode’ to protect Apple products from spyware attacks.
  • The new lockdown mode is coming to iPad and MacBooks as well.
  • The new lockdown mode, when enabled on iPhone/iPad/Mac, will limit the device functionality to reduce any cyber attacks.

Apple has rolled out the iOS 16 beta 3 update and within this, the software brings the new lockdown mode among others. The Cupertino giant says that this is first of a kind feature and will offer an extreme level of security. For that to be understood, there’s a back story. Apple had filed a lawsuit against ‘Pegasus’ spyware creator NSO Group last fall and announced it would be donating $10 million+ to organisations pursuing cyber-surveillance research and advocacy.

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The new lockdown mode is coming to iPad and MacBooks as well besides iPhones. This feature is claimed to protect against targeted cyber attacks. However, the feature isn’t meant for a general audience and is relevant to a very small percentage of users who might be targeted with threats/spyware, like the Pegasus attack.

Apple lockdown mode

The new lockdown mode when enabled on iPhone/iPad/Mac will limit the device functionality to reduce the ‘attack surface’ of potential exploits and harden defences. Here are the safety measures the Lockdown Mode will take when it launches this fall:

  • Messages: Most message attachment types other than images are blocked and features like link previews are disabled.
  • Web browsing: Complex web technologies, like just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilations, are disabled. However, users can have exceptions for the trusted sites from Lockdown Mode.
  • Apple services: Incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, are blocked if the user hasn’t previously sent the initiator a call or request.
  • Shared Albums: Shared albums will be removed from the Photos app, and new Shared albums invitations will be blocked.
  • FaceTime: Incoming FaceTime calls from people you have not previously called are blocked.
  • Wired connections: Wired connections with a computer or accessory are blocked when iPhone is locked.
  • Configuration profiles: Configuration profiles cannot be installed, and the device cannot enrol into mobile device management (MDM) when the Lockdown Mode is enabled.
iOS 16 lockdown mode

How to turn on iPhone Lockdown Mode

To enable lockdown mode on iOS, follow these steps.

  • Open the Settings in iOS 16 or System Settings on macOS Ventura
  • Head to Privacy and Security
  • Scroll to the bottom to find ‘Lockdown Mode’
  • There are two options after you tap: Learn More or Turn On Lockdown Mode
  • Once you enable it, you will be asked to restart the phone
  • To disable, you need to head to the same setting and disable, presumably.

Furthermore, Apple is also said to be looking for collaboration and feedback from researchers and others in the security community. For the same goal, the brand has created a new category in the Apple Bounty Program to reward those who find Lockdown Mode bypasses. Apparently, the bounties will be doubled for qualified Lockdown Mode discoveries, up to a maximum of $2,000,000, which is claimed to be the highest in the industry.