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Apple's fix for the iPhone-crashing text bug

A malicious text message (shown here partially blurred) can disable some iPhone functions.

A text message bug that crashes an iPhone's messaging app or shuts down the phone went viral Wednesday. In lieu of a full security update to fix the problem at its root, Apple released instructions Thursday for how to work around it and reenable messaging functions.

A text consisting of a particular string of characters, revealed on Reddit late Tuesday, exploits an inability of the messaging app's preview feature to correctly render the characters, which are not the standard alphanumerics or emoticons one typically texts. If you receive the malicious message, the app tries repeatedly to render it until finally it crashes, leaving the user unable to send or receive texts as usual.

If the message is received while the phone is on the lock screen, it causes the phone to shut down and reboot.

Apple wrote on its support site, under the heading "If Messages quits unexpectedly after you get a text with a specific string of characters," that the company "is aware of an iMessage issue caused by a specific series of unicode characters." The post said Apple will make a fix available in a software update, but that until then users can use the following steps to work around the problem:

  1. Ask Siri to "read unread messages."
  2. Use Siri to reply to the malicious message. After you reply, you'll be able to open Messages again.
  3. In Messages, swipe left to delete the entire thread. Or tap and hold the malicious message, tap More, and delete the message from the thread.

The effects can also be reversed if the person who sent the message sends a follow up. And Reddit posters reported that it can be avoided from the start by disabling notification alerts.

The message does its damage if sent through the native iPhone messaging app, WhatsApp, Snapchat and in Twitter mentions or direct messages.

  • Amanda Schupak

    Amanda Schupak is the science and technology editor at CBSNews.com