Unicode of Death got you down? Here’s how to fix it

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Unicode of Death 2015
I didn't actually send someone the Unicode of Death. Don't believe anything Rob LeFebvre says.
Screen: Evan Killham/Cult of Mac

Some iPhone users are getting a flashback to 2013 as a new version of the so-called “Unicode of Death” has returned to wreak havoc with their iMessages.

The security exploit, which activates when someone sends you the message in the image above, reportedly forces jailbroken handsets into Safe Mode and completely removes other units’ ability to access the Messages app.

Contrary to what you might read elsewhere, the bug has nothing to do with your iPhone not being able to deal with the Arabic language, and it is definitely not a secret plot by terrorist group ISIS to hijack ur phonez. The issue comes from the Unicode at the end of the message which, according to some users, decodes to an infinitely repeating message that overloads your iPhone’s memory and causes it to wig out.

We’re getting conflicting reports about which versions of iOS 8 and iPhones are affected; some users claim they’re running the most current version (8.3) and don’t have any problems receiving and viewing the text, and some have cited issues with phones running versions as old as 8.1.

Sending the code to myself forced my iPhone — a 5s running iOS 8.3 — to reboot, but I didn’t get shut out of iMessages completely, as some reports claim. The wide range of experiences seems to stem from the placement of line breaks in the code in question.

If you’ve received the code and can no longer get into the Messages app, here are some things to try:

    • Ask Siri to reply to the person who sent you the text. According to this tip, Siri can access Messages even when you can’t because she lives inside the phone, so she can help you get around the block.

    • Open your Photos app and send any picture to whoever messed up your phone. This works similarly to the first trick in that you’re kind of sneaking your way back into Messages. And if you’re looking for an appropriate picture to send, I recommend this one of Johnny Cash giving the finger. That way you’ll solve your problem and let the person know what you think of them all at the same time.

    • During my testing, I discovered that I could open Messages, but it was stuck in the conversation I’d been using to send myself the code and would crash every time I tried to exit. You can get around this by pressing on holding on any individual bubble until the “Copy | More…” dialogue prompt comes up. Select “More,” and then hit “Delete All” at the top of the screen. This will purge all of the offending text and keep the app from crashing.

And here are some tips we’ve heard for keeping your phone from flipping out even if someone sends you the offending string:

    • Disable text previews by going to Settings > Notifications > Messages and then turning off “Show Previews.” My phone still rebooted even if I did this, but some users have reported that it works.

    • Tell your iPhone not to display Message notifications when it’s locked by going to Settings > Notifications > Messages and turning off “Show on Lock Screen.” When I did this, I got the notification sound, but I could wake up my phone without a restart.

    • Because some users have reported the issue showing up when they try to pull up the text from the Notification Center, removing Messages from there might help. Go to Settings > Notifications > Messages > Show in Notification Center and select “None.”

The Unicode of Death last arose to facilitate trolling and random assholery back in 2013, when Russian hackers discovered a string of Arabic characters that caused similar problems in iPhones running iOS 6. Round 1 appeared just before Apple launched iOS 7, so it’s oddly appropriate that this new exploit would appear when we’re starting to hear about the upcoming iOS 9 upgrade.

As appropriate as something that lets strangers jack up other people’s phones for no reason can be, anyway.