Time and again, we have seen that sending a string of particular characters in iMessage can lead to strange things on an iPhone.
There are different character combinations that can render an iPhone useless. While Apple has been quick to fix such bugs, this time a Google researcher found a nasty one that “bricks” Apple phones.
This specific set of characters, when received on iMessage, can brick the phone — locking you out of everything on it. Once you receive this message, there is no way out of it, other than doing a factory reset. Also, any data that wasn’t backed up would be lost.
The researcher, Natalie Silvanovich, is part of Google’s Project Zero team that hunts down zero-day vulnerabilities. She discovered the bug in April and explained how it affects iOS devices:
“On a Mac, this causes soagent to crash and respawn, but on an iPhone, this code is in Springboard. Receiving this message will case Springboard to crash and respawn repeatedly, causing the UI not to be displayed and the phone to stop responding to input.”
[Springboard is the standard application that manages the iOS home screen.]
What makes this bug worse is that it can survive a hard reset. So the phone becomes unusable as soon as it is unlocked. Natalie said that the only way she could fix the phone was by rebooting it into recovery mode and performing a restoration. However, this method wiped out any unsaved data.
But you are probably safe
Apple has already released a fix for this bug in its iOS 12.3 release on May 13. If you have updated your phone, you are safe. Those who haven’t updated their iPhones yet run a risk of bricking their device and they should update their iPhones asap.
It is always recommended to turn on the automatic software update feature in iOS. This way, you can ensure that you receive timely patches for bugs like the iMessage text bomb.