Can Apple’s New Lockdown Mode Safeguard LGBTQ+ Citizens From Government Spyware?
iOS 16 includes a security feature designed to guard against state-sponsored cyberattacks.
In July, Apple announced that their upcoming iPhone, iPad, and desktop update includes an additional security feature intended to help prevent nation-backed hackers from illegally accessing personal data.
As described by Apple in a recent press release, Lockdown Mode will offer “extreme, optional protection for the very small number of users who face grave, targeted threats to their digital security.”
Some examples of those targeted users are human rights activists, journalists, and dissidents. However, other minorities, such as a country's LGBTQ+ community, might also be defended by this update.
As many queer people are still routinely arrested by their governments, sometimes even receiving death sentences, this cannot come soon enough.
Barriers to state-sponsored cyberattacks
When activated, Lockdown Mode blocks links and attachments in Messages, disables WebAssembly, unrecognized FaceTime calls, and Mobile Device Management (MDM) requests. It also prevents locked iOS devices from connecting to a wired accessory or computer.
These are all known to be exploitable for state-sponsored cyberattacks. State-sponsored cyberattacks refers to government-funded mercenary intrusion experts hired to violate their fellow citizens' digital privacy or to commit acts against another country.
Last year, the United States drew attention to the dangers posed by the rise of these attacks, particularly by Russia, in response to economic sanctions levied against them in protest of the Ukraine invasion.
This call to arms included strongly suggesting tech companies like Apple increase user security. The result was the development of Lockdown Mode and the creation of a $10 billion grant for research into state-sponsored cyberattacks and other types of government-endorsed spyware activity.
Many dating apps are mishandling user data
In 2020, we reported Tinder added Traveler Alert, which notifies LGBTQ+ individuals when visiting a sexually repressive country.
Unfortunately, other data apps and social media sites are not so considerate.
Crisis 24, which specializes in online security risk management, points out that, “members of the LGBTQ community face a unique risk as government officials and anti-LGBTQ individuals abuse dating app location services to find LGBTQ users to assault, harass, or imprison.”
The overturning of Roe V. Wade has also highlighted how vulnerable tech companies have made us. Like Facebook assisting in the arrest and subsequent persecution of a Nebraska teenager who sought an abortion.
End-to-end encryption would have kept those incriminating messages secure. While available on Facebook and Instagram, it has to be manually activated.
Supposedly, Meta, Facebook and Instagram's parent company, plans on making end-to-end encryption a default. With their most recent update putting it at no earlier than 2023. However, that date was pushed forward from Meta's original estimation. So it is pretty much anyone's guess when it will be available.
The situation in Nebraska and other instances prove how Meta and other tech companies are handling, or rather mishandling, user security.
Apple can do more for the LGBTQ+ community
Lockdown Mode is a decisive move forward in attempting to impede the growing proliferation of state-sponsored cyberattacks on people living under the shadow of arrest, imprisonment, or execution.
That said, companies like Apple need to be doing more.
Even Apple extending the idea of using it to try and protect LGBTQ+ individuals would be a start. Their support of the right to love (or in some cases, even exist) sends an important message to those living in fear that they are seen and supported.
Homophobic governments might also get a message: The rest of the world is going to be keeping a careful watch on them.
Image sources: surasak_ch