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Apple announces a “block mode” on its devices to fight spyware

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Strengthened security settings, which can be activated with a click to protect yourself from the worst spyware: this is the news that Apple announced for its devices on Wednesday 6 July.

The manufacturer of smartphones, tablets and computers, whose software security holes were exploited in the past by the elite spyware Pegasus, has decided to make available, from the autumn, a “lock mode” (“isolation mode” in French) is supposed to fight infections by the most advanced spyware.

This will have a direct cost of functionality, as some will become inactive. It will become impossible to receive, with SMS, attachments such as images, while the preview of links via SMS will also be disabled. Furthermore, the user will not be able to receive a video call via Apple’s Facetime technology from a new correspondent: there must have been a previous exchange (message or call). Some advanced web browsing features will also be disabled.

This is explained by the fact that calling, receiving attachments or browsing the web, for example, are particularly vulnerable. computer vulnerabilities, and thus entry points for malicious software. Pegasus spyware, manufactured by NSO Group, exploited flaws in Apple’s SMS system to infect iPhones until recently.

Read also: Article reserved for our members “Project Pegasus”: how the Israeli company NSO Group revolutionized espionage

If this function allows ” an extreme safety level ” actionable by all users, Apple believes it primarily affects it “The very few users who, for what they are or for what they do, can be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those of the NSO Group and other private companies that develop spyware on behalf of the States”.

Apple forced to downgrade its service

To ensure the robustness of its “block mode”, Apple also announced that it will double the bonuses given to hackers who find flaws in it and notify them. Apple promises these “ethical hackers” up to $ 2 million in prizes.

In hollow, this new mode also speaks a little of Apple’s impotence towards these spyware merchants and their hundreds of millions of dollars of research and development. The company is in fact forced, in order to offer an optimal level of security, to degrade its service to protect the most exposed users.

This advanced security mode is another step in the showdown that the company has taken with the NSO Group. Since the fall of 2021, the company has started notifying its users when it has reason to believe they have been targeted by sophisticated spyware, most notably Pegasus. Apple took advantage of the “lockdown mode” press conference to indicate that notifications had been sent to its users in more than 150 countries, without specifying the total number of alerts. Reason given by the company: the lawsuit currently opposed to NSO Group. Apple has in fact entrusted the Israeli company to the American courts, seeking in particular to prohibit it from using all devices and services of the Apple brand.

Read also Pegasus: Apple files a complaint against spyware manufacturer NSO Group

Apple has already pledged to pay damages it could collect to organizations working on detecting and fighting malicious software. The company intends to anticipate this potential payment with an initial $ 10 million check to the Ford Foundation’s Dignity and Justice fund, an American philanthropic organization, which is expected to announce its first spyware funding at a later date. 2023.

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