Typing Secret Word Will Kill Almost Any App in Apple's OS X Mountain Lion
February 4, 2013 6:38 AM
"It just works." --Apple
While Microsoft Corp. (
) has received much admonishment for its various Windows bugs over the years, it is a dramatic new bug from the brash challenger of the the operating system world, Apple, Inc.'s (
OS X Mountain Lion
(10.8.2), which has people talking. The bug is startling simple, but it can crash almost any OS X app. All you have to do is type a word and a few characters.
I. Universal Crashes
The forbidden word is "File:///" (case sensitive). Type that in virtual any text input form (be it a notepad, a browser dialogue, a document editor, a calendar appointment, etc.) and the program will die. It appears that similar strings ("fILE:///" or "FILE://aa") can also trigger program crahes. In a bizarre twist, some crashes appear to be dependent on how fast you type certain variants (e.g. "File://" followed by characters). An
user named "Jonathan" shares a movie he made documenting that bizarre behavior
Among the programs confirmed to be infected are Tweetbot, Safari, Chrome, and TextEdit. The program appears to be tied somehow to some sort of deep-rooted API embedded into OS X (it appears not to be the spell-check API as the Safari location bar has no spell check, but is still affected).
In a particularly hilarious (or awful) failure, typing the problem string into Apple's Crash Reporter UI crashes the Crash Reporter.
Mountain Lion has a big bug. [Image Source: HD Wallpapers]
The bug does not affect OS X Lion (10.7) or Snow Leopard (10.6).
II. A Partial Fix?
A handful of apps, such as the image-editor Gimp, appear to be immune, perhaps because they disable whatever the trouble-making interface is. Typing the string in these apps will produce no crash.
Some users suggest that going to System Preferences > Language & Text > Text, and unchecking "Correct spelling automatically" and "Use symbol and text substitution" will stop the crashes in some apps. However, commenters say the apps continue in some programs even after doing that.
One loyal Apple user comments on the bug report:
This is actually a feature. It allows you to shut down all applications before shutting down your Mac:
Crashes Finder if typed into a Finder search field (not Spotlight, though). Crashes Safari if typed into the URL bar. Crashes Mail if typed into the search field. Crashes iTunes when typed into the search field. Crashes system-generated keychain unlock prompts (typed into the "Name:" field) Crashes Reminders if typed into the search field. ...
For now the bug is merely "interesting", but it also represents a potential security flaw. If malicious users start to use it in forms-based attacks, it could become a major headache for OS X users.
Apple for years marketed its products under the slogan "It just works", but has been
plagued with software issues
of late. Some blame Tim Cook, Apple's new CEO who replaced the late Steve Jobs, for the slipping quality. Apple's
iOS maps woes
drew a large amount of national news coverage late last year. Tim Cook
publicly apologized to his company's fans
for the poor showing.
We confirmed that the bug crashes both Safari and Searchlight. For us the Crash Reporter did not come up even:
...about to crash!
The shell/terminal program in OS X appears to be immune to the crashes:
We'll update if a patch lands.
"This week I got an iPhone. This weekend I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a land line so I can actually make phone calls." -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
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