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Apple Patches Yet Another Phone-Crashing Text Bug

Posted on February 26, 2018

We’ve recently seen a series of bugs on iOS and macOS devices that all follow a similar pattern: maliciously-formed links or simple emojis and text strings that cause the device to lock up and crash, sometimes repeatedly. A number of these issues have been fixed over the lifespan of the iPhone, but the past few months has seen a spike in the number of issues in this class requiring patches from Apple to fix. One of the most notable bugs from last year was a bug in the Messages app that caused devices to crash when trying to display a specific emoji character.

Now Apple has released small updates for iOS, macOS, tvOS and even watchOS to fix a new bug that was recently uncovered by software engineers creating an aggregator for international news. Centered around two Unicode characters for letters in Telugu, a language spoken in India, Apple devices using the default San Francisco font would crash immediately upon trying to display these characters.

Unlike previous bugs, which often only caused problems in a single app, the Telugu bug is actually quite far-reaching. It can crash multiple apps due to a problem with the system font. That means that not just Messages and Mail were affected, but also third-party apps such as Twitter and Facebook. Even Chrome fell victim to the Telugu bug; in fact, Chrome crashes were so severe that they required complete re-installation of the browser it to function again.

As a result, Apple quickly pushed out an update for the affected platforms to correct the problem with the font. The potential for causing big problems was high — one can imagine a social media post using the bad characters causing widespread disruption and crashes as people try to view the faulty post. Apple also corrected an unknown problem with input devices in iOS with these updates.

As the second text-related bug of the year, the Telugu bug is notable for how many more crashes it could cause, and because it’s unusual for such simple yet severe bugs to make it into a final release. To avoid headaches caused by pranksters trying to spread this character around, update all your Apple devices to their latest OS versions.

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