Published: Wed, July 11, 2018
Technology | By Lionel Gonzales

IPhone crashing bug likely caused by code added to appease Chinese gov’t

IPhone crashing bug likely caused by code added to appease Chinese gov’t

China, as it often does, responded with censorship. The offending code was supposed to replace Taiwanese flag emoji with a crossed box but, due to an oversight, a null pointer error was created resulting in the crash scenario.

As the chief research officer at cyber-security company Digita Security, Wardle published details of his bug discovery in a personal blog post.

The bug generally caused a "denial of service" issue in iPhone 5 and later models. English can still be set as the primary language, though.

Having just released iOS 11.4.1 to the masses, Apple's focus was very much focused on squashing bugs rather than rolling out new features. The bug affected nearly every messaging app including iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp.

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The iPhone's notorious closed nature made analyzing the bug challenging. By observing the phone's memory and system restore files, Wardle managed to extract some of the code libraries. Wardle also privately reported the bug to Apple. Even receiving the Taiwanese flag emoji on a chat conversation caused messaging apps to crash. While Apple hasn't commented on the case, this isn't the first time it has caved to China's requests.

Since the beginning of 2017, Apple's iOS mobile software has reportedly contained a censorship function that disappears the Taiwanese flag emoji when an iPhone's location setting is switched to China, which doesn't recognize the island's independence.

Infosec whizkid Patrick Wardle revealed today that CVE-2018-4290, a denial of service flaw in iOS 11.3 and earlier, was in fact a programming blunder Apple introduced when it attempted to filter the Taiwanese flag and word "Taiwan" from China-based iPhones. China claims the country as its territory, but Taiwan claims it has the right to self-govern. These restrictions drove Google to end its Chinese business operations a decade ago.

Simply switching the region back again would fix the issue.

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