Apple Takes Aim At Spyware With 'Lockdown Mode'

Apple plans to release a new security setting, Lockdown Mode, which could help combat security threats from hackers and spyware purveyors such as NSO Group.

Lockdown Mode “hardens device defenses and strictly limits certain functionalities,” the company says.

The setting is expected to be released later this year, and will be available in the operating systems iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura. Among other restrictions, Lockdown Mode will block most message attachments and some FaceTime calls.

Apple says the setting “offers an extreme, optional level of security” for the small number of users who “may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from NSO Group and other private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware.”

The Israeli company NSO Group reportedly installed the spyware program Pegasus on around 1,400 WhatsApp users -- including journalists, human rights activists, government officials and diplomats.

In October of 2019, Facebook sued NSO group over the spyware, claiming that the company violated federal and California anti-hacking laws, and violated WhatsApp's terms of service.

NSO Group argues it's protected from lawsuits in the U.S. because it allegedly acted at the direction of foreign governments. The organization points to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, which generally immunizes foreign governments from civil lawsuits.

A trial judge and appeals court rejected that argument, ruling that NSO Group isn't itself a foreign government.

NSO Group has asked the Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

Apple also sued NSO for allegedly violating a federal anti-hacking law by accessing the operating system on mobile phones to install Pegasus. That case is on hold until the Supreme Court decides whether to hear NSO Group's appeal in the lawsuit brought by Facebook.

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