Why iOS 10.3 requires an extra tap to make a phone call

Malicious code that audio-dials 911 prompted Apple to make this change.

ios 10.3 primary
Caitlin McGarry / IDG

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When you install iOS 10.3, if you haven’t already, you’ll notice that there’s now an extra step to make a phone call. Before the update, tapping on a phone number would immediately initiate a call. Now, you have to confirm that you want to dial that number before the dialing begins. There’s a really good reason for this weird change.

According to the Wall Street Journal, an 18-year-old hacker allegedly wrote malicious code that, when tapped, would force your iPhone to dial 911 over and over. The prank led to thousands of 911 calls that overwhelmed emergency response systems in several states. There may have been people trying to reach a 911 operator that couldn’t because of the auto-dialing.

The code worked by exploiting the iOS auto-dialing feature, which is why Apple had to turn it off. Now you have to confirm that you want to make a call before the phone will initiate one.

It turns out that having Apple disable that feature on the iPhone is a whole lot easier than the call centers themselves blocking repeated 911 calls, a form of cyberattacking that could render 911 services unusable. According to the WSJ, each call center is managed by a local authority, not a centralized one, and getting every center on board with a fix would be near impossible.

The 18-year-old who coded this particular cyberattack is facing four felony counts of computer tampering.

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