The An apple On Wednesday, it said it plans to launch a new feature called “Lockdown Mode” in the next quarter that aims to add a new layer of protection for human rights defenders, political opponents and other potential targets of complex hacking attacks.
The move comes after at least two Israeli companies exploited flaws in Apple’s software to remotely hack iPhones without having to click or touch anything. NSO Group, the manufacturer of the “Pegasus” software capable of carrying out these attacks, has sued the company and placed it on a trade sanctions list by US authorities.
The feature will hit Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and Mac in the middle of next quarter, and activating it will block most attachments sent to the iPhone’s messaging app. Security researchers believe the NSO Group exploited a flaw in Apple’s handling of message attachments.
The new mode will also block wired connections for iPhones when they are locked. The Israeli company Cellebrite used these manual connections to access the iPhones.
Apple officials said they believe that the sophisticated attacks the new feature is designed to combat – hacking techniques known as “zero click” – are still relatively rare and that most users won’t need to activate the new mode.
Spyware companies argue that they sell high-powered technology to help governments thwart national security threats. But human rights groups and journalists have repeatedly documented the use of spyware to attack civil society, undermine political opposition and interfere in elections.
To help boost the new feature, Apple said it will pay up to $2 million for each flaw that security researchers discover in the new mode, which Apple representatives said is the largest “bug reward” offered in the industry.
Apple also said it’s making a donation of $10 million, in addition to any potential profits from its lawsuit against the NSO Group, to groups that search for, detect and stop targeted hackers.
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