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A malformed video file is causing iPhones to crash left and right

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Given how effortlessly Apple’s iPhone crunches paginated spreadsheets, image-heavy emails, and video games that rival some home consoles in graphical fidelity, the last thing you’d expect to bring it to its knees is a simple video. But according to multiple reports on Tuesday, that’s just what’s been happening: a malformed clip is rendering some iPhones unstable, causing them to freeze and crash in an endless loop.

The video in question, which YouTube channel Everything Apple Pro reports is making the rounds with the innocuous title IMG_0942.mp4, is a short clip that begins with a figure standing by a bed above the word “Honey” in block lettering. Playback proceeds normally at first, but the bug rears its ugly head after 10 seconds have elapsed. The affected iPhone becomes sluggish, then unresponsive, and finally freezes.

The video appears to crash devices when sent as a link rather than transferred as a file. It doesn’t seem to matter which part of the video’s played, and it appears that Safari, the default web browser on iOS devices, may be the culprit. 9to5Mac speculates that the malformed video triggers a memory leak, or a failure to release temporary data generated while the video is playing.

Which phones are affected?

As of now, the clip seems to affect iPhone models dating back to 2014. That includes the iPhone 4 and 4s, iPhone 5 and 5s, iPhone 6, 6s, and 6s Plus, and iPhone 7 and 7 Plus running iOS 5.

Most iPhones which open the clip exhibit a cycle of freezing and crashing, but devices on newer versions of iOS — specifically iOS 10.2 beta 3 — display the “spinning wheel” animation that normally indicates a power cycle. Left long enough alone, they shut down.  

How to prevent it

The easiest way to prevent your iPhone from being compromised is to avoid opening a video link from a sender you do not recognize. But even if the person in question is a familiar face, it’s best to pay attention to the clip in question — you probably want to avoid links to unsolicited MP4 file.

Once the video begins to play, there’s a brief window of time during which you can prevent a crash by performing a hard reboot.

On any model other than the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, you can perform a hard reset by holding the power button and home button at the same time until the Apple logo appears. On the iPhone 7, which lacks a mechanical home button, you can do the same by holding the power button and the volume decrease buttons.

Performing a hard reboot won’t affect your contacts, photos, apps, or other data.

There may be a fix on the way

It isn’t the first time a bizarre bug has rendered iPhone models unresponsive. In 2015, a bug in iOS 8 led a malformed string of text to disable Apple’s iMessage app. Another bug caused iOS to crash when a certain date and time was displayed, and yet another caused Safari started randomly crashing on iPhones. Both were resolved in subsequent versions of iOS and Apple is likely to address this issue just as quickly.

If Apple issues a response, we will update this post. For now, though, it is best to be on the safe side where MP4 videos are concerned.

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