People Are Blasting iOS 'Text Bombs' on Twitter to Crash iPhones

On Thursday, news spread of a so-called text bomb that can crash Apple devices. Now people are spreading it in public.

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Feb 16 2018, 2:08pm

Image: Shutterstock

On Thursday, TechCrunch reported on at least one unicode symbol that could crash iOS and Mac apps just by a user viewing the character. Naturally, some people may have sent the symbols to individuals in private chats, perhaps to annoy their friends. But others have taken a different approach, and blasted the symbol across social media and other wide spanning apps, potentially crashing devices of many more people—including, it seems, mine.

A Twitter user with the symbol in their screenname ‘liked’ one of my tweets late on Thursday night. Shortly after the notification popped into my feed, my Twitter app on iOS became briefly unresponsive before crashing. When I tried to open the app again, it launched, hung for a few seconds, and then closed. Uninstalling and reinstalling the app temporarily fixed the issue, but the same user liked another of my tweets on Friday morning, causing the whole thing to happen again.

“My friends [have] been complaining about their phone crashing on Twitter,” Amir, the Twitter user, told me in a direct message (I managed to have the conversation while on a non-iOS device).

On Thursday, Twitter released an iOS app update which fixes “a crash that affects users of right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew,” the update notes read. This update has not addressed the current, ongoing issue, it seems—my iOS app still crashes when viewing the character. (The character is from Telugu, a south-Indian language). Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to The Guardian, Apple is working on a patch for its operating systems.

Funnily enough, Amir said he has tried to change his handle back for around 12 hours, but Twitter blocks the name change, presumably so users can’t tweak their screen name too often.

Others have used the symbol on the Uber app, too.

“I keep requesting a ride but all the drivers in the area seem to no longer be on their phones or accepting rides,” pseudonymous security researcher MG tweeted on Thursday, along with a screenshot of an Uber profile containing the offending symbol.

Security researcher Darren Martyn tested what would happen when putting the symbol in the name of a Wi-Fi network. It crashed his Mac’s network application, according to a video he posted to Twitter on Thursday.

Got a tip? You can contact this reporter securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, OTR chat on jfcox@jabber.ccc.de, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

In TechCrunch’s original tests, the issue was effective across Slack, Mail, Messages, Facebook, Instagram, and Chrome. As TechCrunch reported, software engineers at Aloha Browser originally found the issue, and said Apple is aware of the issue.

Apple faced a similar issue back in January, but which crashed phones with a URL.