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Strange network names can disable Wi-Fi on iPhone — stay clear of a specific symbol [Update]

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 11
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Update on Monday, July 12: Apple's iOS 14.7 update reportedly (opens in new tab) fixes the bug that disables Wi-Fi functionality on iPhone models. Using iOS 14.7 beta 5, YouTube channel zollotech demonstrated that the iPhone was no longer affected when joining networks with the percentage (%) sign, and was able to connect to Wi-FI and browse the web. What follows is the original story.

A security researcher discovered a network name is breaking Wi-Fi functionality on iPhone and other iOS devices, and it appears to be due to a specific symbol triggering a bug in Apple's smartphone.

As spotted by 9to5Mac, founder of reverse-engineering and software blog Carl Schou joined the network “%p%s%s%s%s%n” only to find it completely broke the Wi-Fi functionality on the iPhone. The researcher also found using "%secretclub%power" could trigger the same issue, meaning the percentage sign appears to be causing problems when iOS devices connect to networks. 

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Another user connecting to a Wi-Fi network with similar symbols also experienced the same issue. The name,“%Free %Coffee at %Starbucks,” appeared to have triggered the bug and automatically switched off Wi-Fi functionality. 

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In order to restore Wi-Fi functionality, Schou states he had to manually edit an iPhone backup and "remove malicious entries from the known networks .plist." Completely resetting the Wi-Fi settings on the iPhone didn't appear to work, either.

While the security researcher claims that any iOS device's Wi-Fi can be permanently disabled when using similar Wi-Fi names, another user tried it on an old (and very cracked) iPhone, and Wi-Fi appeared to be enabled. As noted by another reverse engineer, different iOS versions may not be affected by the bug. Possibly more recent iOS updates are affected.

Apple has yet to respond to the bug, but the report offers an explanation on why it might occur. The bizarre combination with the percentage sign (%) in networks could be leading to a mishap in memory corruption in the iPhone. iOS spots and kills the process of connecting to Wi-Fi, which is why Wi-Fi functionality is then completely disabled.

While the issue is ongoing, it is highly unlikely anyone will encounter this problem considering the specific circumstances. Apple may update a fix in the next iOS update, but in the meantime, keep an eye out for the percentage symbol in network names when connecting to Wi-Fi on an iOS device.

For those that are affected, try resetting Wi-Fi your iPhone's Wi-Fi settings by heading to the Settings app, navigating to General, scroll down to Reset, and hit the Reset Network Settings.

Speaking of iOS updates, if you're looking to try out Apple's next OS update, here's how to install the iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 public betas.

Darragh Murphy is fascinated by all things bizarre, which usually leads to assorted coverage varying from washing machines designed for AirPods to the mischievous world of cyberattacks. Whether it's connecting Scar from The Lion King to two-factor authentication or turning his love for gadgets into a fabricated rap battle from 8 Mile, he believes there’s always a quirky spin to be made. With a Master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from The University of Sheffield, along with short stints at Kerrang! and Exposed Magazine, Darragh started his career writing about the tech industry at Time Out Dubai and ShortList Dubai, covering everything from the latest iPhone models and Huawei laptops to massive Esports events in the Middle East. Now, he can be found proudly diving into gaming, gadgets, and letting readers know the joys of docking stations for Laptop Mag.