The new mode, which is part of iOS 16, works by shutting down iPhone features that are typically exploited by sophisticated hacks. Most message attachments are automatically blocked, link previews are disabled, many web technologies are disabled unless a user deems a website safe, and FaceTime requests from unknown callers are rejected, among other measures.
It has previously been reported that some versions of Pegasus, the NSO Group’s flagship product, have been injected into iPhones using a GIF or other attachment sent in an iMessage. A Google security team, working with Apple, then explained how it was possible to conduct iPhone attacks that didn’t require the victim to click on the message or even open the message; the hack will work once the message is received.
NSO Group has denied that its products have been used to facilitate human rights abuses, saying it only sells to governments that use the technology for national security and counter-terrorism. But CitizenLab’s investigation found that the software had been used by authoritarian governments to monitor dissident journalists and protesters.
“There is now undeniable evidence from the Citizen Lab and other organizations research that the mercenary surveillance industry facilitates the spread of authoritarian practices and massive human rights violations worldwide,” said Citizen Lab director Ron Deibert.
†[Apple’s grant] will send a strong message and help nurture independent investigators and advocacy groups that hold mercenary spyware vendors accountable.”
Lockdown Mode will also be available for Apple computers as part of this year’s macOS Ventura update.
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