IPhone crash? Might have been China's dislike for Taiwan's flag

iPhone crash? Might have been China's dislike for Taiwan's flag

The technology giant confirmed the fix in a security update Monday, after the release of iOS 11.4.1, crediting security researcher Patrick Wardle for the discovery.

The bug is specific enough to make anyone suspicious.

Wardle explained how, due to a NULL pointer cockup, some iPhones that had set the USA as their default country would crash when receiving the flag or word as part of a text message, or when typing it.

In doing so, it would return a "null" value, which caused the crash. Wardle notes that while digging into the code for possible problems, he found out that various code to the faulting instruction was checking the user's device's language/ locale settings for China.

Apple's iOS is closed source, unlike Android. That made it hard to track down the cause of the bug. Messages which were sent featuring the emoji included only a blank space. Wardle also privately reported the bug to Apple.

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The intended behavior of this code is not to crash your phone, obviously.

On an iOS device with CN (China) set as the language/locale, iOS is looking for the Taiwanese flag emoji and then removing it. He had no trouble reproducing the remotely triggerable bug, which crashed any iOS application that processed remote messages, including iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. Even receiving the Taiwanese flag emoji on a chat conversation caused messaging apps to crash.

Apple reportedly altered some code to help China not get too angry over its "Taiwanese claim".

After losing mainland China to communist forces in 1949, the Republic of China relocated to Taiwan. China claimed Taiwan as its territory, but Taiwan insisted on its right to self-govern.

Wardle traced the likely goal of the buggy code to documented iOS behavior that hides the Taiwanese flag from the emoji menu or from being displayed on the screen when the region is set to China. These restrictions drove Google to end its Chinese business operations a decade ago. Before Apple's fix, changing the iPhone's region could have worked around the bug.

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