With Apple set to launch its new iOS 16 operating system imminently, some security experts have warned that the software's headline privacy feature might not be all that it's cracked up to be.
The company announced that Lockdown Mode would be available as part of iOS 16, designed for the new iPhone 14 models and more, in a bid to offer users a stronger level of cybersecurity protection than ever before.
But exactly how useful the feature will be to the millions of everyday iPhone users had been called into question, with one leading VPN company calling out Apple just in time for the launch.
"Using Lockdown Mode comes at a cost," explained Marijus Briedis, Chief Technology Officer at NordVPN. "Get behind the wheel of a tank and you're unlikely to be setting any speed records and, in the same way, employing this security measure will limit your iPhone's performance and what you can do with it."
"Most message attachments and links will be blocked, shared photo albums will be unavailable and anonymous FaceTime calls will be a thing of the past. Added to this, the mode is not something you can simply toggle on and off without a full system reset."
NordVPN's comments appear to make sense when considering some of the new features of Lockdown Mode, which include blocking most message attachment types other than images, disabling link previews and blocking wired connections with a computer or accessory when an iPhone is locked.
The launch looks to address possible security flaws exploited by a suspected state-sponsored attack against thousands of iPhone users, including government officials, back in 2021. Following this attack, Apple sued NSO, the company it believes was responsible for creating the surveillance software, a charge NSO has denied.
We raised our own concerns about the usefulness of iOS 16 Lockdown Mode after its reveal, with TechRadar US Editor in Chief Lance Ulanoff noting the tool "is not for everyone...In fact, you might argue it's for a select few: those who believe they could be targeted by state-sponsored cybersecurity attacks. In other words, this is software for the President of the United States."
Briedis and NordVPN seem inclined to agree, noting Lockdown Mode is, "the sort of feature that is probably standard issue among intelligence agents, now rolled out to a far wider audience."
"With just a few swipes users can set up the equivalent of Fort Knox on their iPhone, protecting data on their handset from the attention of would-be hackers."
"Unless you are a high-ranking government minister or privy to priceless state or commercial secrets, engaging Lockdown Mode to safeguard your phone is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. And if bad actors genuinely have your device in their sights, running the feature could convince anyone tracking your phone that you have something worth stealing."