Apple had a shockingly bad week of software problems just before the end of 2017, and it looks like 2018 isn’t starting so well either. A new bug has been discovered in iOS 11 that lets people send a specific character that will crash an iPhone and block access to the Messages app in iOS and popular apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Outlook for iOS, and Gmail. Italian Blog Mobile World spotted the bug, and we’ve tested it successfully on multiple iPhones running iOS 11.2.5, and found it also works on the macOS versions of Safari and Messages.
The bug itself involves sending an Indian language (Telugu) character to devices, and Apple’s iOS Springboard will crash once the message has been received. Messages will no longer open as the app is trying and failing to load the character, and it appears that the only way to regain access to your iMessages is to have another friend send you a message and try to delete the thread that contained the bad character.
We’ve also tested the bug on third-party apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Gmail, and Outlook for iOS and found that these apps can become disabled once a message is received. It might be difficult to fix and delete the problem message for apps like WhatsApp, unless you have web access enabled. Telegram and Skype appear to be unaffected. The public beta version of iOS 11.3 is also unaffected, so Apple will clearly fix this once iOS 11.3 is available broadly sometime this spring. We’ve reached out to Apple for comment, and it appears the company was notified at least three days ago.
This isn’t the first time that iOS has crashed due to weird characters, URLs, or even videos. Last month a single link could freeze an iPhone, but Apple was able to resolve it with the release of iOS 11.2.5. Back in 2015 a tiny string of text disabled iMessage, and a year later in 2016 a 5-second video crashed iPhones. Apple also experienced issues with an iOS 11 bug in December that crashed iPhones, and the company took the unusual step of issuing a significant iOS update just hours after the bug started occurring.
As Apple faces more security issues and software bugs, the company is reportedly focusing on reliability and performance in iOS 12 over new features. Reports suggest that Apple is taking a new approach to iOS updates, allowing engineers to push features to later releases instead of trying to cram them in for big annual updates. Some features have reportedly been pushed back as a result, allowing Apple to address some of the security and reliability issues discovered in both iOS and macOS recently.
Update, 7AM ET: The Verge has discovered this also affects third-party apps, making it far more troublesome.