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Apple’s iPhone is now making headlines, with its vulnerability being known, as it can crash with a text message caused by an offensive bug in the Cupertino firm’s OS. This text message shuts down anyone’s iPhone. Worse, the text message does not need to be opened. It acts on the receiving handset immediately once received.
The notorious message has two English words, Arabic characters and a Japanese character which appear to have no meaning. These Unicode characters, which are 75 bytes, can trigger the glitch. When they appear in the notification screen, iThings will crash. Texting this message to friends will reboot their devices if they open it from the notification panel.
Anyone can play with this prank, and any iPhone owner is susceptible, as long as their number is known. The message likewise affects Apple Watch if it is connected to the iPhone which receives the message.
CNN Money verifies it works, after testing the message. The message shuts down the receiving device right away, though it will restart 15 seconds after. It is not destructive, but annoying. Some already complained that another version of the code disables iMessage permanently, unless the user deletes the conversation.
iPhone can crash with a text message due to a problem of Apple’s mobile operating system iOS which runs mobile devices like iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch; it seems to affect OS X as well, the operating system that runs Mac computers. For instance, having this killer message in the /etc/motd file on the server will crash the Terminal when a Mac user logs in.
Forum users from Reddit website found the bug first, specifically by user “cbhunt14,” who disclosed it on Tuesday. The users on the site think they know the cause. They assume it is a form of an error in the way incoming messages are displayed on iPhones. The notification on the iPhone experiences trouble in displaying such line of code, resulting in turning off the device to avoid a complete crash.
The Register UK provides a more technical explanation and it discusses how Apple’s mobile OS displays a text on the device screen. The issue does not lie on the message’s characters, but how CoreText, the operating system’s application program interface which processes a series of program codes to help apps, shows texts on screens.
The error causes CoreText to access an invalid memory, causing the device system to stop the program that currently runs on the hardware, which can be any application – a text message app, for example. Both iOS and OS X have CoreText. Platform versions that may be affected are iOS 8, OS X 10.10 and perhaps, earlier.
Apple has not explained the cause of the matter yet, but told CNBC, they already know the iMessage issue about a series of Unicode characters. They will make the fix available in an OS update. How the nasty message was found is not clear; whether by accident, or if it was really being searched to create trouble.
After gaining media attention, the public uses the OS glitch as a prank to turn off the devices of their friends. Social media users are not pleased.
Now, iPhone users have to be careful as their handset can crash with a text message. To protect an Apple device in the interim, one can deactivate lock screen notifications. This can be inconvenient, but can protect the device. Those who have it already can request a friend to send a normal text message to flush the nasty message away, or use Photos app to send a message. Once in iMessage, they can delete the conversation.
By Judith Aparri
CNN Money: The text you never want to get on your iPhone
CNBC: This Apple glitch allows you to turn off anyone’s iPhone
The Register UK: Prank texts CLOBBER iPhones – we dive inside the iOS, OS X bug
Photo courtesy of Yeray Hdez Guerra’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License