A new series if text bombs or 'crash codes' have been discovered that cause WhatsApp to continually crash on both iPhone and Android handsets. Specially coded messages containing a seemingly random string of strange characters cause rendering problems for WhatsApp, resulting in a loop of crashes.
As well as undecipherable messages delivery crash codes, vCards (virtual contact cards) can also be used. Victims may have to uninstall and reinstall WhatsApp, which means potentially losing chat history.
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The dangerous codes are being shared in online forums, and as reliable insider site WABetaInfo explains, WhatsApp users are being advised not to send them on to friends, family or other contacts even as a joke.
Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy, says the phenomenon is extremely concerning because of the sheer number of people using WhatsApp globally – around 1.5 billion.
"Once the message has been received, the app will crash, and even closing and restarting the app will not fix the issue," he says. "The current spate of text bomb messages appears to have originated in Brazil, however, it is now spreading globally."
There are, thankfully, some steps you can take to help protect yourself against these crash codes. While it's not a guaranteed form of security, it's a good idea to limit who can add you to a group as this will help to reduce the risk of being exposed to strangers who might share a dangerous message or vCard with you.
Open up your WhatsApp settings, head to the 'Privacy' section and change the 'Groups' setting so that only your contacts can add you to a group.
Walsh advised anyone unfortunate enough to have receiver a crash code message to log into their account in the web-based version of WhatsApp, block the person who sent the message, and then delete it. This might prove tricky unless you are already logged into WhatsApp Web, as you need to scan a QR code using the WhatsApp mobile app.
We contacted WhatsApp's parent company Facebook for a comment, and a spokesperson told us: "WhatsApp has released and already begun rolling out a patch that addresses this in its latest iOS software update. As with any tech product, we strongly encourage users to keep their WhatsApp app and mobile operating system up to date and download updates whenever they're available".