July 6, 2022
Apple Expands Industry-Leading Commitment to Protect Users Against Highly Targeted Mercenary Spyware
Apple is previewing a groundbreaking security capability that provides specialized additional protection for users who may be exposed to highly targeted cyberattacks from private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware. Apple also provides details of its $10 million grant to bolster research exposing such threats.
Apple today detailed two initiatives aimed at protecting users who may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware. Lockdown Mode — the first major feature of its kind, coming this fall with iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura — is extreme, optional protection for the very small number of users facing serious targeted security threats. digital. Apple also shared details about the $10 million cybersecurity grant it announced last November to support civil society organizations conducting research and advocacy on mercenary spyware threats.
“Apple makes the most secure mobile devices on the market. Lockdown mode is a breakthrough capability that reflects our unwavering commitment to protecting users against the rarest and most sophisticated attacks,” said Ivan Krstić, head of engineering and security architecture at Apple. “While the vast majority of users will never fall victim to highly targeted cyberattacks, we will work tirelessly to protect the small number of users who are. This includes continuing to design defenses specifically for these users, as well as supporting researchers and organizations around the world who are doing critically important work to expose the mercenary companies that create these digital attacks.
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 in the NSO and other private companies. state-sponsored mercenary spyware development. Enabling Lockdown Mode in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura further strengthens device defenses and severely limits certain features, significantly reducing the attack surface that could potentially be exploited by highly targeted mercenary spyware.
At launch, lockdown mode includes the following protections:
- Messages: Most types of message attachments other than pictures are blocked. Some features, such as link previews, are disabled.
- 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.
Apple will continue to strengthen Lockdown Mode and add new protections to it over time. To invite feedback and collaboration from the security research community, Apple has also created a new category within the Apple Security Bounty program to reward researchers who find workarounds to Lockdown Mode and help improve its protections. Bounties are doubled for qualifying discoveries in lockdown mode, up to a maximum of $2,000,000 – the highest maximum bounty payout in the industry.
Apple is also awarding a $10 million grant, in addition to damages awarded in the lawsuit against NSO Group, to support organizations that investigate, expose and prevent highly targeted cyberattacks, including those created by companies. corporations developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware. The grant will be paid to Dignity and Justice Fund created and advised by the Ford Foundation – a private foundation dedicated to advancing global equity – and designed to pool philanthropic resources to advance social justice around the world. The Dignity and Justice Fund is a project funded by the New Venture Fund, a 501(c)(3) public charity.
“The global spyware trade targets human rights defenders, journalists and dissidents; it facilitates violence, reinforces authoritarianism and supports political repression,” said Lori McGlinchey, director of the Ford Foundation’s Technology and Society Program. “The Ford Foundation is proud to support this extraordinary initiative to strengthen research and civil society advocacy to resist mercenary spyware. We must build on Apple’s commitment, and we invite companies and donors to join the Dignity and Justice Fund and contribute additional resources to this collective fight.
The Dignity and Justice Fund plans to award its first grants in late 2022 or early 2023, initially funding approaches to help expose mercenary spyware and protect potential targets that include:
- Build organizational capacity and increase on-the-ground coordination of new and existing civil society cybersecurity research and advocacy groups.
- Support the development of standardized forensic methods to detect and confirm spyware infiltration that meet evidentiary standards.
- Enable civil society to partner more effectively with device manufacturers, software developers, commercial security firms, and other relevant businesses to identify and address vulnerabilities.
- Educate investors, journalists and policy makers about the global mercenary spyware industry.
- Strengthen the capacity of human rights defenders to identify and respond to spyware attacks, including security audits for organizations facing increased threats on their networks.
The Dignity and Justice Fund’s grantmaking strategy for research, monitoring and accountability of the enhanced cyber arms trade will be advised by an independent global technical advisory committee. Initial members include:
- Ron Deibertprofessor of political science and director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto
- Ivan Krstić, head of engineering and security architecture at Apple
“There is now compelling evidence from research by Citizen Lab and other organizations that the mercenary surveillance industry is facilitating the spread of authoritarian practices and massive human rights violations around the world,” Ron said. Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto. “I commend Apple for creating this important grant, which will send a strong message and help nurture independent researchers and advocacy organizations holding mercenary spyware vendors accountable for harm they inflict on innocent people. “
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