Will the iPhone be the safest device to use after this?

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Around this time last year, an investigation by an international media consortium revealed that several thousand phones were targeted by spyware called Pegasus created by NSO Group, an Israeli software company.

The list included 300 devices in India and prominent opposition politicians, judges, several journalists and activists were the main targets.

It further emerged that spyware is only sold to governments. It was then that the matter reached the Indian Parliament where the opposition camp declared that the use of spyware was an invasion of their freedom and privacy and demanded an investigation into the matter.

The government, as expected, denied the espionage allegations.

Cut to this year, another spyware called Hermit appeared which is said to be even more powerful than Pegasus. It can record audio, make and redirect phone calls, and collect data including call logs, contacts, photos, device location, and SMS messages.

In times like this, it’s been difficult for smartphone makers to convince users that their devices and data are safe.

However, Apple was an exception. The Cupertino-based tech giant is turning the sensitive issue of privacy into its own advantage with one ad at a time.

Apple has positioned itself as the most privacy-conscious big tech company with new iPhone features that restrict apps’ access to personal data.

The last feature that we know of is “lockdown mode” which aims at tighter privacy and more control for a user.

Let’s understand if this mode will make iPhones more secure and less prone to attacks.

What is Apple’s “lockdown mode”?

Apple is making a major change in iPhones to make it harder for spyware to target and hijack user data. This will block phone functionality so that hackers cannot access user data or exploit other phone functions. This includes blocking message attachments, incoming invitations, and service requests on FaceTime, as well as blocking wired connections from an iPhone to a computer, among other things.

Additionally, attempts to connect a wired or network accessory to an iPhone will be blocked.

However, this is an optional, multi-layered set of options for those who want to add an extra layer of protection to their phone.

Will the feature be available to everyone?

Apple says this mode (option or setting) will be available to a “very small number of users facing serious, targeted threats to their digital security.”

“Lockdown mode provides an extreme, optional level of security for the very few users who, because of who they are or what they do, may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those of the NSO Group and other private companies develop state-sponsored mercenary spyware,” the company said in a statement.

So, in all likelihood, the feature will be available to those who have already been targeted by spyware and malware.

When can you use Lock Mode on iPhones?

Lockdown Mode is not available on iOS, iPadOS, or macOS at this time. However, the feature will be available once Apple starts rolling out its new software in September with the iPhone 14 series.

Is it necessary to activate lock mode? Weren’t Apple devices secure anyway?
It’s true that Apple has touted privacy as a key feature of all its devices for the past few years, but following the Pegasus and Hermit spyware attack on several iPhones, the company has again stepped in to make its devices more secure against such attacks.

What does the lockout mode for all protections offer?

Messages: Most types of message attachments other than pictures are blocked. Some features, such as link previews, are disabled.

Web browsing: Certain complex web technologies, such as just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation, are disabled unless the user excludes a trusted site from lockdown mode.

Apple Services: Incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, are blocked if the user has not already sent a call or request to the initiator.

Wired connections to a computer or accessory are blocked when iPhone is locked.

Configuration profiles cannot be installed and the device cannot enroll in mobile device management (MDM) when lockdown mode is enabled.

Will the iPhone be the safest device to use with Lock Mode?

Lockdown mode is a big deal at a time when our devices are vulnerable to threats from bad actors. This will force Google to follow suit with its Android operating system, and it wouldn’t be surprising if other companies lined up as well.

So yeah, you could argue that with such features on your phone it’s safer and in an emergency journalists, activists and other personalities may find it really helps to protect valuable data from the compromise.

Although Android devices are also catching up, for example, you can check which apps are using the phone’s microphone, among other things, so far they don’t offer the privacy features that iPhones are known for.

So iPhones may not offer all the fancy features Androids offer these days, but Apple’s privacy marketing campaign seems to be working in the company’s favor. The new spyware (Hermit) may test Apple’s privacy claim, but the lock mode will attract privacy-conscious people.

Apple’s reaction after iPhones are questioned over privacy

Apple last year sued the NSO Group after spyware Pegasus, used as a weapon for state-sponsored surveillance, affected some of the iPhones. The company also patched the vulnerability where the spyware could be installed on users’ iPhones.

Apple had to bear the backlash earlier for its stance on privacy and security. In 2020, the FBI asked the company for data on two iPhones that belonged to the shooter during a shooting.

However, the company refused to do so. Apple believed that creating a backdoor in the phone would weaken its security and could be used by malicious actors.

In September 2015, Apple launched its new operating system, iOS 9, which it touted as having enhanced security to “protect customer data”.

In February 2016, the Department of Justice obtained a court order ordering Apple to write software to circumvent the security feature. Apple said it would fight the order, saying the government was seeking to force the company to breach its own security, which could pose a threat to customer privacy.

But it’s not that the company isn’t accepting requests from law enforcement authorities—Apple’s transparency report says it responded to more than 125,000 government requests for information.

Later that year, Apple’s senior director of global privacy, Jane Horvath, said “end-to-end encryption is critically important to the services we rely on.” Regarding the fight against terrorism, she continued that “building a backdoor to encryption is not the way we are going to solve these problems”.

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