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How Time Travel Can Brick Your iPhone

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If you have an iPhone, iPad, or some other iOS device, you probably want to make sure you’re running version 9.3.1. A time traveling fault in Apple’s mobile operating system can potentially brick your phone making it completely useless.

Apparently, if you manually set the date on an iOS device running an older version to January 1, 1970 it will overheat and permanently crash. No one is exactly sure why it happens, but the prevailing theory is that most apps use security certificates to transmit data, but those apps stop working properly if the date set on the device is earlier than the date the certificate was issued. Consequently, the apps that are built into the device compete with each other for resources, which causes it to overheat before it dies. Oddly enough, as it’s dying the clock slowly begin to count backwards.

You may ask yourself, “Well, as long as I don’t set my clock to 1970, why do I need to be concerned?” The answer is simple: Because someone can do it without your knowledge. It turns out that after this flaw was discovered, security experts began to wonder if they could automate it. With a little networking knowledge and by knowing how iOS devices connect to them, you can.

Essentially, all wireless devices have a feature that allows them to automatically connect to wireless networks they’ve connected to before. So if you go to Starbucks, you can jump on “Starbucks Wi-Fi” or whatever it’s called, then the next time you go you will automatically be connected when you get in range. If someone were to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot with the same name as one people use publicly, they could then redirect victims to a fake Network Time Protocol (NTP) server sending out an incorrect date of January 1, 1970. As researchers have proven, any iOS device that were to get in range of the malicious hotspot would reboot, overheat, and die.

Fortunately anyone running the latest version of iOS should be safe as Apple has released a patch. You may also want to configure your mobile devices to prevent them from automatically connecting to networks, unfortunately doing so won’t stop it from connecting to a network with the same name of one it previously connected to.