How to use lockdown mode on iPhone, iPad, and Mac (and why you don’t want to)

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Lockdown mode imposes heavy restrictions on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac in an attempt to increase security. But who is it for, how does it work, how is it enabled, and what kind of drawbacks are there?

Note: As of this writing in September 2022, this feature is available on iPhone running iOS 16. However, it won’t be available on iPad until iPadOS 16.1 is released later in the fall of 2022. you will have access to Lockdown Mode on your iPad. Also, macOS Ventura is not available from mid-September 2022, but is expected to be released in October 2022.

What is lockdown mode?

Apple describes the lockdown mode as “specialized additional protection for users who may be at risk from highly targeted cyberattacks by private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware” and admits that the mode is designed to benefit a “very small number of users”.

This extreme level of protection is designed to benefit those who are at risk of being tracked by governments or private companies using tools like NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. Apple is in the process of suing NSO Group in a move it hopes will “curb the abuse of state-sponsored spyware.”

Once enabled, Lockdown mode limits many standard features in an attempt to limit potential spyware entry points. This includes:

  • Blocking of most types of message attachments (excluding images).
  • Disable link previews in messages.
  • Disable just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript elements unless you exclude a trusted website.
  • Block incoming invitations, service requests and FaceTime calls from unknown contacts (unless you have previously initiated contact).
  • Limitation of cable connections with computers and accessories.
  • Delete shared albums from Photos.
  • Prevent a device from enrolling in mobile device management (MDM) as used by many enterprise devices.
  • Prevent a device from installing configuration profiles, such as those used to preview iOS beta versions.

Apple claims that these restrictions are included in the “at launch” lockdown mode, which could suggest that the company intends to include more restrictions in future versions.

Available with iOS 16, iPadOS 16.1, and macOS Ventura

Lockdown mode is available for all iPhones and iPads that support iOS 16 and iPadOS 16, and all Mac models that support macOS Ventura. That means iPhone 8 and iPhone SE 2nd generation or later, iPad and iPad mini 5th generation, iPad Air 3rd generation, and all iPad Pro models.

iOS 16 Lockdown Mode button in Settings

You will need to update your iPhone, iPad, or Mac with the software update feature before you can use lockdown mode. If you have an older device that doesn’t support the update, you can still get security updates to close known vulnerabilities, but you’ll miss out on this new extreme level of protection.

RELATED: Will iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 run on my iPhone or iPad?

How to enable lockdown mode

Enabling lockdown mode is easy, no matter what device you’re using. On an iPhone or iPad, go to the Settings > Privacy & Security menu, then scroll down to the bottom of the screen and tap “Lock Mode” followed by the “Turn Lock Mode On” button.

Enable lockdown mode in iOS 16

You will now see a popup notifying you of the restrictions you are about to enable. To continue, use the “Turn on lockdown mode” button and then press “Turn on and restart” to confirm your decision.

Reboot iPhone to enable lockdown mode

On a Mac, the process is almost identical. Head to System Settings > Privacy and Security, then click “Lockdown Mode” followed by “Turn On” before being prompted to restart your Mac.

Once you have restarted your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, you will now have Lockdown Mode enabled. You can disable it again by visiting the “Privacy and Security” menu and reversing your decision.

A balance of security and privacy

Lockdown mode is a security feature that hopes to prevent your device from being compromised by zero-day vulnerabilities. As a result of its restrictive nature, the use of lockdown mode leaves a kind of digital footprint that could potentially expose those who use it.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) revealed that its Cover Your Tracks fingerprinting web tool could detect when an iPhone owner was using lockdown mode due to restrictions introduced in the Safari browser.

The EFF explained that the blocking mode limits potential entry points that could become targets for spyware and other malware creators. One of these is the ability to upload custom fonts, which can be used to exploit a web browser’s rendering engine. The EFF noted that it is easy to use JavaScript to detect whether a source is blocked or not.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
EFF.org

Combined with the browser’s user agent and other device information left behind when a web page is visited, the EFF was able to determine that an iPhone owner is using lockdown mode. The concern here is that it could paint a target on a person’s back, drawing attention not because of the information left behind but because of the way Lockdown Mode attempts to secure your device.

This illustrates a disadvantage of using lockdown mode in that it betrays a user’s privacy in an attempt to increase overall security. The EFF goes on to say that “Apple’s introduction of this powerful new protection is a welcome development for those who need it most” but that “users should also be aware of the information they are exposing to the web” if they choose to become in.

If you’re curious about online privacy and how trackers see your browser, test your browser with the Cover Your Tracks tool.

Lockdown mode is unnecessary for most

The good news is that the vast majority of people don’t need to worry about lock mode. Apple claims that “very few” people are subject to the kind of attacks this mode is designed to prevent, and most can continue to use their iPhone, iPad, and Mac to the fullest.

Forget lockdown mode for now and check out the best iOS 16 features you should try right away.