Tech News : Mercenary Spyware: Threats and Safeguards

Mercenary Spyware: Threats and Safeguards

Mercenary spyware poses significant threats to individual privacy and security. This article aims to shed light on the nature of mercenary spyware, its capabilities, and crucial measures to safeguard against such targeted cyber threats.

What is Mercenary Spyware?

Mercenary spyware, also known as “private-sector spyware” or “commercial spyware,” represents a class of surveillance software developed and distributed by private companies. Unlike conventional malware, which spreads indiscriminately, mercenary spyware is meticulously crafted to infiltrate specific individuals’ devices or networks.

Mercenary Spyware
Mercenary Spyware Representation

Key Characteristics and Concerns

Mercenary spyware operates with precision, targeting journalists, activists, politicians, and business leaders to gain unauthorized access to their sensitive information and communications. Its capabilities encompass a range of malicious activities, including remote surveillance, keylogging, accessing files, activating cameras and microphones, and tracking location.

One of the most alarming aspects of mercenary spyware is its ability to evade detection by security software, operating covertly by exploiting vulnerabilities in operating systems, applications, or network protocols. While some private companies sell this surveillance technology to governments for legitimate purposes such as law enforcement investigations, instances of its misuse for political surveillance, human rights abuses, and espionage have been reported.

Protecting Against Mercenary Spyware

Safeguarding against mercenary spyware requires a multi-faceted approach:

1. Regular Software Updates: Keep your devices up to date with the latest operating system versions to benefit from critical security fixes.

2. Strong Passcode Protection: Set a robust passcode to prevent unauthorized access to your device.

3. Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Enable 2FA for an additional layer of security, ensuring that even if someone gains access to your password, they cannot log in without the second authentication factor.

4. Exclusive App Store Installation: Install apps solely from reputable sources like the App Store to mitigate the risk of downloading malicious software.

5. Use Unique Passwords: Employ strong, unique passwords for all your online accounts to prevent unauthorized access.

6. Exercise Caution with Links: Be wary of clicking on links or attachments from unknown senders, as mercenary spyware often exploits unsuspecting users through phishing emails or malicious links.

Additionally, Apple has introduced Lockdown Mode in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura as an extreme protection measure against targeted threats. This feature restricts certain functionalities, reducing the attack surface for highly sophisticated attacks.

Lockdown Mode, a feature introduced by Apple, offers several protective measures against potential threats such as mercenary spyware. Among these safeguards:

  • Messages: Lockdown Mode restricts certain message attachment types, excluding images, and disables features like link previews, thereby mitigating the risk of malicious content infiltration.
  • Web Browsing: Complex web technologies, including just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation, are disabled by default in Lockdown Mode. However, users can selectively exempt trusted sites from these restrictions, ensuring a balance between security and usability.
  • Apple Services: Incoming invitations and service requests, such as FaceTime calls, are blocked unless the user has previously initiated contact with the sender. This proactive measure prevents unsolicited communications, reducing the likelihood of potential security breaches.

In addition to technological advancements, Apple demonstrates its commitment to combating mercenary spyware by allocating a $10 million cybersecurity grant to civil society organizations. This initiative underscores Apple’s steadfast dedication to safeguarding users against even the most sophisticated cyber threats, reaffirming its role as a leading advocate for digital security and privacy.


In a landscape where digital privacy and security are increasingly under threat, understanding the nature of mercenary spyware and implementing robust protective measures are paramount. By staying vigilant, practicing good digital hygiene, and leveraging security features provided by companies like Apple, individuals can mitigate the risks posed by mercenary spyware and safeguard their privacy in an interconnected world.

Also read: Apple Alerts Users in India and 91 Nations to Potential ‘Mercenary Spyware’ Threat

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