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Should You Use Apple’s Lockdown Mode? Here’s What you Need to Know Before You Decide

Apple's Lockdown Mode provides additional security ... but with significatn drawbacks.

Maybe you’ve heard of Apple’s Lockdown Mode feature and thought its promise of extra-strong protection for your devices sounded pretty good. Or you may have seen the Lockdown Mode option in your Apple device’s setting and wondered what it did. Or maybe you just care about your security and are wondering if this feature will keep you safer. Whatever the reason, we’re here to explain Lockdown Mode – and give you our thoughts about whether or not you should actually turn it on.

What is Lockdown Mode?

According to Apple, “Lockdown Mode helps protect devices against extremely rare and highly sophisticated cyber attacks.” It’s designed as extreme protection against severe, specifically-targeted threats. Apple specifically recommends it for people who, because of what they do or who they are, might be personally targeted by sophisticated and well-funded attackers.

Like its name implies, Lockdown Mode works by “locking down” your device. In cybersecurity, there’s a concept called “attack surface.” Attack surface is the number of different places that an attacker could try to get access. Lockdown Mode protects devices by limiting that attack surface. It reduces the number of ways malware, spyware, or hackers can get in. This isn’t always convenient for the user, though. Often, limiting attack surface requires limiting features.

One important thing to know about this feature is that it’s completely optional. If you don’t feel like you need this kind of extreme protection or dealing with the limitations is too inconvenient, you can leave it off. And leaving it off doesn’t necessarily leave you vulnerable. Apple’s built-in security features are pretty good. With those and your own awareness, you don’t necessarily need Lockdown Mode to keep yourself protected.

How to Use Lockdown Mode

Lockdown Mode is available for iOS 16 and later, iPadOS 16 and later, watchOS 10 and later, and macOS Ventura and later. To get the best protection, you should update all your devices to the latest software version.

On your iPhone or iPad, go to the Settings app and tap Privacy & Security. Scroll down, find the Lockdown Mode option, and turn it on. You may need to enter your device’s passcode.

On your Mac, click the Apple menu at the top, then open System Settings and select Privacy & Security in the sidebar. Scroll down, find the Lockdown Mode option, and turn it on. You may need to enter your user password to confirm.

Turning it on for one device doesn’t turn it on for your other devices. (The exception is Apple Watches. When you turn on Lockdown Mode on your iPhone, it will automatically turn it on for your paired watch.) So if you want it on all of your devices, you’ll have to set them all individually.

The Downsides of Lockdown Mode

We mentioned earlier that Lockdown Mode provides such strong protection by limiting the attack surface, but limiting the attack surface also limits features. And there are a lot of features that it limits. Some people find the inconvenience of not being able to do certain things on their Apple device isn’t worth the protection they get.

These are some of the things your Apple device will no longer do when Lockdown Mode is turned on:

  • Message attachments, except certain types of images, won’t show up
  • Links in messages don’t work
  • Certain features of websites don’t work, which means sites will be slow or not function properly
  • Online fonts or images may not show up
  • Incoming FaceTime calls are blocked unless you’ve called the person before
  • Games Center is disabled
  • Invitations to Apple services are blocked
  • You won’t be able to access shared albums in the Photos app, and shared album invitations will be blocked
  • It’s much harder to connect to an accessory or other device, like an external keyboard or AirTag

Some testers have also said that it limits other features, such as paying MP3 files, speech recognition abilities, and viewing PDF files. However, it doesn’t affect basic functions like making phone calls, sending or receiving text messages that are plain text, or any emergency features like the SOS emergency call.

Who Should Use Lockdown Mode

Lockdown Mode is designed to provide really strong protection, especially from spyware. So if somebody might be trying to spy on you, especially if that someone has a lot of resources they can use to target you, turning it on might be a good idea!

Some people who are at high risk of being personally targeted by spyware or cyber attacks are:

  • Journalists, especially journalists working in dangerous areas or trying to expose a government’s wrongdoing
  • Human rights defenders
  • Government officials
  • Political dissidents
  • Defense contractors
  • People doing sensitive work in dangerous areas or under oppressive regimes
  • Anyone who regularly deals with information that requires a security clearance

If you fall into one of those categories, turning on this feature could be a good choice. And just because it can be helpful doesn’t mean you always need to have it on. For example, if you’re a journalist, you may want the protection of Lockdown Mode while you’re overseas reporting on an oppressive regime. But you may not need it once you’ve returned to your home country.

Should You Use This Feature?

If you are being personally targeted by sophisticated cyber attacks, such as by a foreign government, the additional protection is valuable. After all, when your life or your freedom are in danger, making it more difficult to connect a mouse to your Mac seems like a small price to pay. If you are afraid a government is or might be tracking you, by all means, turn it on!

But if you’re not being targeted by a government or well-funded hacker group, are you willing to give up features like shared photo albums, message attachments, and functional web browsing for that extra step of security that you may not need? For the average person at an ordinary level of risk (which is most of us), basic precautions will be good enough. Apple devices already tend to be secure. You can protect yourself even more with awareness and good security practices, like:

If you decide you want to turn on Lockdown Mode, there’s nothing stopping you. You could even try it for a little bit and see if it feels too restrictive. But for most of us, it makes using our devices a lot harder for very little benefit. In certain circumstances, it can be a life-saver – literally. But if you’re not in a high-risk profession and you decide it’s not worth the inconvenience, then you can be reasonably safe while leaving Lockdown Mode off.

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