I’ve spoken in detail about Apple AAPL +1.28%’s “massive” iPhone plans, but right now the company’s biggest concerns are the serious stability issues in iOS 11 (1,2,3,4,5) and iPhone hardware problems. So this is the last thing Apple needs…
An investigation by popular YouTuber EverythingAppleProand expanded upon by 9to5Mac, has revealed every iPhone, iPad and Mac can be broken just by receiving a specific text. The text disables iMessage before spreading more widely into iOS, MacOS and their apps. What’s more, there’s nothing some devices can do to prevent or fix this.
Called the ‘Black Dot’ bug, it uses a black dot emoji (not replicated here for obvious reasons) to hide thousands of invisible Unicode characters within it. As 9to5Mac explains:
“[T]he sheer number of invisible characters just causes the text processing engine to spin near indefinitely on processing the string, which then ultimately locks up the wider OS and apps.”
Testing the bug on MacOS, 9to5Mac found their Mac’s memory usage spiralled out of control, creating a massive 30GB swap file in the process. WatchOS and tvOS are also expected to be vulnerable.
Once infected, closing iMessage or restarting your device won’t help. The only workaround on the device itself is for iPhones with 3D Touch: hard press on the iMessage app to jump directly to creating a new message, cancel that to return to your list of messages then delete the Black Dot message.
But obviously not all iPhones have 3D Touch and no iPads do. Furthermore, Apple is widely expected to cancel 3D Touch which could leave more devices open to such an attack in future. As such the only other workaround is to load iMessage on another Apple device (if you have one) and delete the message from there, which will free your iPhone or iPad.
Interestingly, the Black Dot bug can affect Android too if it is sent to WhatsApp, but the impact is minimal. A user simply closes the app and the problem is gone.
Right now no Apple device user is safe from the Black Dot bug. It has been tested to work on every version of iOS, including the latest beta of iOS 11.4. But given how serious this is, I fully expect Apple to implement a patch in iOS 11.4 or even rush out iOS 11.3.2 as a dedicated fix (it has a lot to do).
Until then iPhone, iPad, Mac and (it looks like) Apple TV and Watch owners are sitting ducks…