Apple patches iOS bug that crashed apps due to Taiwanese flag emoji

Although initially slated for iOS 12, the release of iOS 11.4.1 has seen the rollout of  USB restricted mode, which prevents the hacking of an Apple device via the Lightning port. But that’s not the only feature that the company slipped into its latest incremental update.

Former NSA hacker Patrick Wardle found that, when iPhone users either sent or received a message containing the word Taiwan or a Taiwanese flag emoji, the app they were using would crash.

Wardle detailed the bug extensively in his step-by-step blog post and reported it to Apple, which lead to the issue being quietly patched in the latest iOS release (11.4.1) under the code CVE-2018-4290.

Chinese democracy

Wardle found that the bug would crash several messaging applications, such as iMessage, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, and would occur as soon as the user typed in the country’s name or selected its flag. It would also occur upon receipt of a message containing either of these.

He discovered the cause of these crashes to be related to a series of checks that verified whether the iPhone’s region was set to China or not, and then attempted to remove a specific emoji (in this case, the Taiwanese flag) from incoming messages.

As can be found by visiting the aptly-titled website Emojipedia, the Taiwanese flag emoji is, in fact, censored from iPhones that have their locale set to China – no doubt due to lingering political tensions between the two countries – and such users will instead see a missing character.

At this point, Patrick Wardle boils down the crashing applications to an error in the coding rather than a deliberate bug, but regardless of whether the crashes were intentionally programmed into iOS, the flag censorship certainly was, indicating Apple’s willingness to appease the Chinese government.

Harry Domanski
Harry is an Australian Journalist for TechRadar with an ear to the ground for future tech, and the other in front of a vintage amplifier. He likes stories told in charming ways, and content consumed through massive screens. He also likes to get his hands dirty with the ethics of the tech.