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We can make our phones harder to hack, but complete security is a dream | John Naughton

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News Tech: Apple caused a commotion a few weeks ago when it revealed that the upcoming update to its mobile and laptop operating systems would include a non-obligatory high-security mode that would give users an unprecedented level of protection against highly effective “spyware” software that covertly takes control of their devices.

Lockdown is an alternative operating system mode that works well. Go to settings, choose it, then restart your computer to turn it on. When you do, your iPhone becomes noticeably different. For example, browsing the internet is slower because Lockdown disables several of the speed and efficiency techniques that Safari uses to render web pages. Until you specifically exclude a website from limitation, several sophisticated but widely used internet applied sciences, such as so-called just-in-time JavaScript compilation, which allow websites to run packages inside your browser, are disabled. Nevertheless, more people are likely to choose greater security now that Apple device flaws have been exposed.

According to Apple, this feature is called Lockdown Mode and “offers an extreme, optional level of security for the very few users who, due to who they are or what they do, may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from NSO Group and other private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware.”

Lockdown also prevents you from accepting any new invitations or requests (such those from FaceTime) unless you have requested them. The phone won’t display hyperlink previews in messages and can ban any files other than a few common photo formats. It also won’t allow access to anything that is physically plugged into it. so forth.

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These gadgets are typically described as “smart” adjectives. They can be “high-tech” devices like smart speakers, fitness trackers, and security cameras, as well as everyday household items like refrigerators, light fixtures, plug-ins, doorbells, thermostats, and so on. Their USPs, or multiple ways of saying comfort, from an advertising and marketing perspective include flexibility, usability, and responsiveness.

But sensible is a euphemism that tactfully conceals the truth that they’re tiny computer systems which are linked to the web and can be remotely managed from a smartphone or a laptop. Some are made by respected corporations, but many are merchandise of small outfits in China and elsewhere. They include default usernames and passwords (comparable to “admin” and “password”) that patrons can change (but often don’t). Because they’re networked, they’re remotely accessible by their house owners and, extra importantly, by others. And there are billions of them on the market in our properties, places of work and factories. The term “attack surface” is used by security experts to refer to the range of potential points where an unauthorised individual can access a system, extract information, and/or cause damage. The easier it is to defend, the smaller the floor. The corollary, regrettably, also applies. We are building a nearly infinite-dimensional assault floor in our Gadarene rush into the Internet of Things.

The peculiarity is that we are already aware of the outcomes and don’t seem to care about them. The security team was captivated in 2016 by a variety of big distributed denial-of-service assaults that caused outages, online congestion, and in one instance, overloaded the website of a well respected security expert. Before 2016, these attacks were carried out by botnets of thousands of infected PCs, but in 2016 they were carried out by a botnet of about 500,000 infected “smart” devices. The IoT devices were recruited for attacks that sent garbage traffic at a website’s target until it was unable to function by the Mirai malware, which searched the web for IoT devices with little more than factory-default usernames and passwords.

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Mirai is still spherical, so you might not be the only thing gaining from these glitzy, new networked lightbulbs. Comfort may have a higher value than we think. So make these passwords stronger.

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