Apple devices going haywire when Indian-language character appears

Apple devices going haywire when Indian-language character appears
Posted at 3:33 PM, Feb 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-19 11:31:57-05

(RNN) – If you have a Mac device, all it takes is receiving a single character of a language native to India, and it’ll wreak havoc on your ability to text, use some apps or possibly kill your iPhone altogether.

The character isn’t a virus or any kind of malicious hack. It simply appears to cause a breakdown when programs operating on iOS 11.2.5, Apple’s current system, try to read it.

The character comes from Telugu, the third most-spoken language in India. It is native to the country’s southeast, with approximately 74 million people who use it as a first language.

The character, in effect, triggers a bug in Apple’s operating systems, including macOS for Apple computers and watchOS for the Apple watch. Simple exposure, of any kind, will cause an app - from messages to email to web browsers; anything that involves text input, basically – to crash.

Often, the app will need to be deleted and reinstalled in order to work again.

One particularly devastating effect occurs when it shows up in a notification, such as for a text message. That will cause the part of the system that manages notifications - called Springboard - to reset. If the reset fails or you interrupt it by trying to manually turn your phone off and back on, it will irrevocably collapse the entire system.  

In that extreme case, you would have to completely restore your phone, and your data would be gone forever.

The good news is the character isn’t as simple as a letter in English, like A or B. It is a combination of letters that result in a compound character that generally translates into English as “Gna.” It is not easy to type without a functioning understanding of Telugu.

However it is by no means impossible to figure out, and once found of course it can simply be copied and pasted (on a non-Mac device, obviously). Determined actors have been inserting it into messages or even their username on Twitter.

Apple told tech news site The Verge it is working on a fix that can be released before the next full update, iOS 11.3, is issued this spring.

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