How Apple wants to fight spyware with its "lockdown mode"

Apple goes on a crusade against spyware.

How Apple wants to fight spyware with its "lockdown mode"

Apple goes on a crusade against spyware. The apple brand will offer this fall a new data protection tool for journalists and activists, after the Pegasus affair revealed the extraordinary technical capabilities of certain spyware. The “Lockdown” mode (“containment”), is an “extreme protection, optional, for the very small number of users whose digital security is seriously threatened”, explained Apple in a press release on Wednesday July 6.

All users will be able to use this security, but people "who can be targeted by ultra-sophisticated attacks, carried out thanks to the programs of NSO Group and other mercenary companies which develop spyware on behalf of governments", are more targeted, details the Californian giant. In September, the American company had to urgently repair a computer vulnerability that the Pegasus software, from the Israeli firm NSO Group, was able to exploit to infect iPhones, without users even having to click on links. or trapped buttons, according to a process called "zero-click".

The new option will allow users to completely secure many services and content on their device, including attachments. For example, it will no longer be possible to connect a computer via cable to an iPhone if it is locked. More protected, the user will have to give up certain features reminds the Apple site: it will become impossible to receive, with SMS, attachments such as images, while he will have to say goodbye to the preview of links by text message.

Among the enhanced security settings, the new lock mode will block FaceTime invitations and calls from unknown sources. In 2019, a security flaw was reported in this call application allowing the user to hear and see his correspondent on an iPhone even before he picked up. Note that calls or the receipt of attachments can become gateways for malware.

This also includes disabling certain complex web technologies, such as just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation, unless the user excludes a trusted site from lockdown mode.

Apple has also expanded its program for cybersecurity researchers. The group will offer a new bonus, up to $ 2 million, to hackers who report flaws in the Lockdown mode. On the firm's website, the multinational's engineering and security architecture manager, Ivan Krsti, describes "the revolutionary capacity" of this locking mode and displays the company's direction: "Although the great majority of users will never fall victim to highly targeted cyberattacks, we will work tirelessly to protect the small number of users who are."

A year ago, an international media collective revealed that Pegasus had made it possible to spy on the numbers of journalists, politicians, activists or business leaders from different countries, including French President Emmanuel Macron. "The excitement is considerable, said at the time Gilles Babinet, co-president of the National Digital Council in L'Express. The number of people worried about this affair is important."

For its part, NSO Group has assured on several occasions that its technologies allow States to save lives, by tracking down child criminals and terrorists, for example. But Apple, which has built its success in particular on its excellent reputation for security and respect for privacy, filed a complaint against the Israeli company in November. She accuses him of being responsible for the "malicious activities" of some of his clients, including governments. "These are amoral mercenaries of the 21st century who have created ultra-sophisticated cyber-surveillance machines, inciting blatant and routine abuses", had indicated the lawyers of the American group in the complaint.

Two weeks ago, Google exposed Italian spyware that was used to hack smartphones to spy on users in Italy and Kazakhstan. “These companies facilitate the proliferation of dangerous hacking tools and arm governments that would not otherwise be able to develop these skills,” the tech giant said.

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