Apple’s new “Block” mode blocks mercenary spyware



As part of its ongoing effort to fight government-funded mercenary spyware, Apple will offer a new “lockdown mode” in iOS 16 and macOS Ventura. The average person will never use this setting, but it should offer greater protection for common targets of global governments, such as journalists and dissidents.

It seems that Pegasus spyware really pushed Apple over the edge. Developed by Israel’s NSO, Pegasus exploits zero-click vulnerabilities to access Apple devices. It is licensed to various foreign powers, including the United States and segments of the EU.

That said, Pegasus is best known for its association with the Saudi government. Spyware is regularly discovered on the phones of journalists and human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including those who are jailed or killed. (For what it’s worth, the Saudi government also hit Jeff Bezos with Pegasus or similar spyware in 2018.)

Because mercenary spyware like Pegasus takes advantage of zero-click vulnerabilities (which are discovered by reverse engineering Apple products), lockdown mode has to close these vulnerabilities. That means reduced functionality, especially when it comes to image or file previews, FaceTime calls, and JavaScript.

“Lockdown mode is an extreme and optional protection that should only be used if you believe you may be the personal target of a highly sophisticated cyber attack. Most people are never subjected to attacks of this nature.”

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Apple also says it’s putting money into the Justice and Dignity Fund, which will try to combat mercenary spyware through education, coordination with advocacy groups and the development of software forensics tools. But because mercenary spyware is such a powerful diplomatic and economic tool, lockdown mode appears to be the long-term solution for parties at risk.

Lockdown Mode debuts with iOS 16 and macOS Ventura later this year. According to Apple, the capabilities of lockdown mode will grow to deal with the threat of new spyware.

Source: Apple