Users of Apple devices (running iOS, macOS, tvOS, watchOS) have been reporting the circulation of a Telugu text bomb over the past few days. It comes in a form of a Telugu character that threatens to crash certain applications or, worse, brick your device. Telugu is a classical Indian language spoken by about 75 million inhabitants of its Eastern regions. This character, when included in any text of any application, crashes it. However, this has in several cases prevented further access to these apps, or even initiated a boot loop. If you’re lucky, your app crashes and you get away with it. If you’re not, all your data on the application (e.g. iMessage chat(s), your Notes, Calendar entries) might get wiped. If you’re Bad Luck Brian, you now have a brick.
This is certainly not the first time the whizzes at Apple have faced such a detrimental loophole in their otherwise immaculate coding. Software engineers claim there exists another Unicode non-English character that bricks any Apple device when included in any application running Apple’s default San Francisco font. In 2015, an Arabic character was made famous overnight as the “Unicode of Death” after overloading the memory of several iPhones simply by being displayed.
The Telugu text bomb works the same way as prior attacks have. It triggers a malfunction of CoreText – a library of processes enabling applications to display text. CoreText attempts to access invalid memory, forcing the operating system to force the application to quit. If the Telugu text bomb appears on the notifications feed, it affects SpringBoard, an essential part of iOS.
No fixes have emerged, though Apple has acknowledged the issue and confirmed it only affects devices running iOS 11.2.5. The issue will be fixed with iOS 11.3, which is a pretty big update therefore probably won’t arrive too soon. A public beta is available here that would protect users from the text bomb. Beta releases are not guaranteed to be completely stable, and users should back up all data before attempting an update to a beta. Instructions on how to update your iOS device can be found here.