Apple beefs up device security as spy agencies warn of increasing Chinese threats


US tech giant Apple has announced ‘Lockdown Mode’ – an upcoming security feature for iPhones, iPads and Macs made specifically to defend against state-sponsored mercenary spyware and cyberattacks.

Lockdown Mode will be an option to flip on in upcoming iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura updates, and is designed to offer ‘extreme, optional protection for the very small number of users who face grave, targeted threats to their digital security.’

Specifically it is designed for those who may be personally targeted by some of the nastier digital threats out there, and specifically references software deployed by Israeli smartphone spyware maker NSO Group and other private companies developing ‘state-sponsored mercenary spyware’. This comes in the wake of reports that some countries have been using Pegasus Spyware (developed by NSO Group) in particular to spy on political opponents, activists and journalists.

Turning on Lockdown Mode will block most message attachments, disable certain complex web technologies such as just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation, block incoming invitations and service requests if the user has not already sent the initiator a request/call themselves, stop wired connections with a computer or accessory, configuration profiles will no longer be able to be installed, and the device cannot enrol into mobile device management.

Some of those functions won’t be immediately recognisable in the first place to many, but Apple says limiting these services reducing the ‘attack surface that could potentially be exploited by highly targeted mercenary spyware.’ New functions to Lockdown Mode will be added over time, we are told.

Apple sued NSO Group in November last year on behalf of iPhone users it alleges had their phones hacked in some of the scandals that hit the news involving Pegasus Spyware being used to snoop of certain individuals, stating rather bombastically: ‘Defendants are notorious hackers—amoral 21st century mercenaries who have created highly sophisticated cyber-surveillance machinery that invites routine and flagrant abuse.’ Clearly it decided to build a virtual wall for its devices as well as have a pop at the firm in court.

It’s not a bad day for Apple to put on a public display of flexing its security muscles – today MI5 and the FBI hopped up on a soap box big enough for two to host an ‘unprecedented’ joint press conference in which they warned about the threat from China on various fronts including cyberattacks on businesses.

“Since its earliest days, alongside MI5’s secret responsibilities has sat a parallel responsibility for helping the UK reduce its vulnerability to attack – whether from sabotage in naval dockyards during World War I, or from hostile Foreign Direct Investment today,” MI5 Director General Ken McCallum said to an audience of business and academic leaders at Thames House today. “You – the UK’s innovators and technologists, our researchers and scientists, our businesspeople – are one of the UK’s greatest strengths. That’s why you’re being targeted. Let’s not let your success be China’s competitive advantage. Let’s take on this challenge together.”

The US was also ringing the alarm bells with regards to cyber threats emanating from North Korea this morning. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the FBI, and the Department of the Treasury put out a joint Cybersecurity Advisory warning about Maui ransomware, which is apparently being used by ‘North Korean state-sponsored cyber actors’ to target the healthcare sector.

“The FBI, along with our federal partners, remains vigilant in the fight against North Korea’s malicious cyber threats to our healthcare sector,” said FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director Bryan Vorndran. “We are committed to sharing information and mitigation tactics with our private sector partners to assist them in shoring up their defences and protecting their systems.”

There doesn’t seem to many actual new allegations or information to come out of the joint FBI and MI5 announcement, and instead it seems more of a restating of previously made public statements which in a nutshell are warnings to businesses to up their security precautions, because it claims the Chinese state or Chinese businesses are increasingly looking to disrupt or steal the IP of western businesses with the various cyber tools at their disposal and more traditional espionage techniques.


Get the latest news straight to your inbox. Register for the newsletter here.

  • BIG 5G Event

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.