Lock Down Your iPhone for Protection Against Spyware and Other Targeted Cyberattacks

Lock your iPhone to protect against spyware and other targeted cyberattacks

If you think you might be a likely target of a hacker, there’s a new iOS security feature that provides extreme protection for your iPhone against spyware, phishing attempts, and other highly sophisticated cyberattacks.

While anyone can enable the advanced security measure on iOS 16 and later, most of you won’t have to because the cyberattacks it’s designed to protect against are rare, mostly targeting politicians, journalists, military personnel, investors, human rights defenders, dissidents, lawyers, activists, government employees and other potential targets of state-sponsored mercenary spyware.

The new Extreme Security capability also works on iPadOS 16.1 for iPad and macOS 13 Ventura for Mac, which are still in beta.

What does lockdown mode affect?

When you enable Apple’s new lockdown mode, you reduce potential attack surfaces and entry routes for highly targeted spyware attacks and exploits. The cybersecurity tool bolsters device defenses, restricting various functions on your iPhone, limiting certain websites, apps, and features, and even making certain experiences unavailable.

  • Posts: Blocks most attachments except certain image, video, and audio file types, as well as actionable links and rich link previews (you should still see the URL). If you try to open an attachment, you will receive an alert “Unable to open message in lock mode”.
  • Web browsers: Blocks some complex web technologies, such as just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation, which causes websites to load slower or incorrectly. Images and web fonts may not be displayed or rendered correctly. If you normally need to run content for a specific website, you can exclude it from lockdown mode as a trusted site. Although excluded websites apply to Safari, everything else also works for third-party browsers like Chrome (left image below), Firefox, Edge and Opera. In the examples below, you can see that the original web font used (environment) is replaced (right).
  • Facetime: Blocks incoming calls unless you called the contact before. The caller would receive a “FaceTime unavailable” message after failing to connect, and you would receive a notification telling you who tried to contact you by FaceTime. Beyond that, there’s no record of anyone trying to FaceTime you.
  • Apple Services: Blocks new invitations to Apple services unless you invited the contact before. For example, an invitation to manage a home in the Home app would be blocked unless you already invited it.
  • Shared albums: Block new invitations and delete albums already shared with you from the Photos app. However, you can still view albums shared with you in the Photos app on other iCloud-connected devices that aren’t in lock mode.
  • USB accessories: Blocks wired connections to USB accessories or computers unless you unlock iPhone first.
  • Configuration profiles: Blocks installation of configuration profiles and enrollment in mobile device management (MDM) or device supervision. However, any previously installed configuration or management profiles will continue to function normally, and you can temporarily disable lockdown mode to install profiles as needed.

Who should use lockdown mode?

As mentioned earlier, lockdown mode is for users who might be potential targets of malware or spyware attacks, where compromised information on their devices is of great importance. For example, politicians, journalists, military personnel, investors, human rights defenders, dissidents, lawyers, activists, government employees and other potential targets of mercenary sponsored spyware the state.

According to Apple, “Lockdown Mode is optional extreme protection designed for the very few people who, because of who they are or what they do, could be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats. people are never targeted by attacks of this nature.”

Unless you are a possible attack vector for highly sensitive data, you will probably never be in a situation where you need to use lockdown mode. Nevertheless, you can follow the steps below to enable it.

How do I activate lock mode?

Go to Settings -> Privacy and security -> Lock mode. A new page will open where you can read a brief explanation of what Lock Mode does. Tap “Enable Lock Mode” to enable the feature.

After that, a new page will open explaining the Lock Mode features in more detail. After you know what you’re about to activate, tap “Enable Lock Mode” again, then tap “Enable and Reboot” when prompted. You will be prompted for your password to continue and the device will reboot.

How do I exclude websites from lockdown mode?

Open Safari and head to the website you want to exclude. Tap the page settings button (AA), then “Website settings”, and turn off the new “Lock mode” switch.

You can change your excluded websites by going to the “Lock Mode” section in the “Privacy & Security” settings. Tap “Configure Web Browsing”, then “Exclude Safari Websites”, and you’ll see a list of your excluded websites. You can enable and disable lock mode for each of them.

How do I turn off lock mode?

Go to the “Lock mode” section in the “Privacy and security” settings, then tap “Turn off lock mode”. A message will appear asking for confirmation; Tap “Power off and restart”, and it will ask for your passcode again before restarting your iPhone.

Will Apple continue to improve Lock Mode?

Like most features, of course. Apple may include more device protections for Lockdown Mode in the future. And it actively ensures that it’s one of the most powerful and reliable features iOS has to offer with its Apple Security Bounty program. A new category in the program is dedicated to receiving feedback, workarounds, zero days, and other exploits from the security research community. To show its dedication to lockdown mode, Apple has also doubled bug bounty rates for lockdown mode, and researchers can earn up to $2 million for qualified reports.

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Cover photo and screenshots by Brenda Ramirez/Gadget Hacks

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