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Watch a crazy iOS bug cause iPhones to crash just by receiving a text message

Published May 27th, 2015 8:30AM EDT
iPhone Messages Bug

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A newly discovered and potentially worrisome iOS bug has been causing Phones to crash and automatically reboot when a certain string of characters is received via the Messages app. The string in question, which consists of both english and arabic characters, was first brought to light via a Reddit thread before being corroborated by MacRumors late on Wednesday evening.

“Sending the string of characters to an iPhone results in an immediate respring, causing an iPhone to crash and quickly reboot,” the report notes. “From there, if the Messages app was opened at a list view, the Messages app crashes automatically when you try to open it. If it was opened to the conversation where you received the message, the app will open, but attempting to go to another conversation causes Messages to crash.”

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Notably, the bug only arises when the text message is received while not actively in the Messages app. In other words, receiving a banner notification with the offending text is what specifically causes things to go into a tailspin.

If you find that your Messages app has been taken hostage by the aforementioned text, there are a few fixes MacRumors successfully implemented in their testing. As mentioned earlier, the bug causes the Messages app to crash if the app opens up in list view. However, if you are able to open up the Messages app to the specific conversation where the offending text originated from, simply sending a reply message will reportedly fix the problem.

If you find yourself perpetually stuck in the lists view upon opening up Messages, you can skirt around the perpetual crashing by having a friend send you a new text message. One nifty tip MR points out is that you can also use Siri to send a text message to yourself.

As for the reason why the string of offending text causes such chaos, the Reddit thread where the bug was first posted claims that it’s “due to how the banner notifications process the Unicode text. The banner briefly attempts to present the incoming text and then “gives up” thus the crash.”

Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen an iOS vulnerability be exploited on account of an errant text message. Way back in 2009, former NSA employee and security researcher Charlier Miller, along with his research partner Colin Mulliner, discovered a way to remotely take over any iPhone with just a simple text message comprised of a single character.

As a final point, one Twitter user who claims to have talked to Apple tech support about the issue indicated that senior engineers are aware of the issue “and that they are working on a fix and to expect [an] update soon”

Here’s a video of the bug in action:

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.