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WhatsApp 'Text Bomb': Emoji Messages Crash Apps and Smartphones in Seconds

Newsweek logo Newsweek 08/05/2018 Newsweek Europe

whatsapp © Provided by IBT Media (UK) whatsapp It may look innocent, but a simple WhatsApp message containing a small black dot emoji can be used to crash your app or smartphone in seconds.

Inside the Reddit community for the Facebook-owned chat service, users have complained for days about the glitch—known as a “text bomb”—which stores thousands of hidden characters that will overwhelm the app if clicked. The text in circulation shows the emoji and a short message reading: “Touch here.”

While invisible on the screen, the text bomb stores approximately 6,000 Unicode characters that are used to dictate how letters display in order of left-to-right or right-to-left. Multiple computer experts who analyzed the backend code suggest WhatsApp is currently unable to process changes of text direction at scale.

It is believed that the booby-trapped texts mostly impact devices on Google’s Android OS. WhatsApp and Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Tom Scott, computer coder and popular tech YouTuber, said in a video that Android developers would likely release a fix within the next two weeks. The black dot could be substituted for any other emoji and still work, he added. “The black spot itself almost certainly isn’t the cause of your phone’s doom,” Scott explained.

A separate crash message—which again surfaced on a Reddit thread—was recently designed to read: “This is very interesting!” alongside a smiley-face emoji. The alleged developer of the attack, who uses Instagram under the name Jens Hindersmann, wrote: “Sometimes not only WhatsApp is crashing, my whole system process got stuck, and I was forced to restart my phone. Use it carefully.”

A YouTube video uploaded on May 4 showed the bug in action. In each case, the emoji plays no role—it is the hidden mass of characters to blame for the issue.

Text bombs have existed in various forms for years. Earlier this year, it was confirmed that Apple devices could be stalled with the use of a single letter from Telugu, an Indian language. Security experts stress that the crashing is unlikely to cause lasting faults to a smartphone and are typically described as a nuisance.

NOW SEE: 32 secret WhatsApp tricks everyone should know (Stuff)

32 secret WhatsApp tricks you should be using: There are over a billion WhatsApp users worldwide right now. The bad news? Your mum has already found her new favourite way to spam you. The good news? You can easily avoid her on the down-low - and that’s just one of the messaging service’s many secret tips you probably don’t know about. We’ve scoured every inch of WhatsApp to gather up its most useful features. Read these top tips and you’ll be a pro in no time at all. 32 secret WhatsApp tricks you should be using

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