January 1, 1970. If you've been around tech a long time, you might have seen that date pop up on your computer screen. It's the default date that appears on older computers after completely losing power to the motherboard.
The reason for that particular date is because of an early operating system called Unix. To make a long story short, Unix tells time by counting every second that has elapsed since 00:00:00 UTC, January 1, 1970. When it loses that count, say due to power loss, it goes back to the beginning. But what does this have to do with the modern iPhone and iPad?
The iOS operating system that runs the iPhone and iPad is based on Apple's Mac OSX, which is based on BSD, which is based on Unix. Some of the Unix DNA survived, and could be behind a scary new problem for Apple gadget owners. This problem applies to the iPhone 5s or newer, the iPad Air or newer, the iPhone mini 2 or newer or the sixth generation iPod touch or newer.
Hackers and researchers have found that setting your Apple gadget to January 1, 1970, causes the gadget to lock up on the next reboot. In fact, it locks it up so completely, even an iTunes restore won't work. You'll need to get a replacement gadget from Apple.
No one is quite sure yet why this happens, and Apple is still looking into it. However, the best guess is that iOS sees the date January 1, 1970, as either zero or a negative number, and that causes some or all of the iOS functions that require a date to crash.
Now, you might be thinking this isn't a big deal, because you'd never set your gadget to this date. And it actually is a long process to do it. However, maybe you have a friend who's a prankster or an ex-friend with a grudge that has access to your gadget. Or it could be done remotely, in the right circumstances.
Your gadget can get time updates from other sources, such as a cellular network. A hacker with a rigged public Wi-Fi network might cause every connected gadget to set their times to January 1, 1970. You connect for some free Internet browsing and your phone dies the next the time you restart.
To keep your gadget safe while Apple comes up with a fix, there are some steps you can take. You can make sure you have a lock screen in place with a strong passcode so random people can't get at your gadget's settings.
You can also turn off automatic time changes. Go to Settings>>General>>Date & Time and turn off "Set Automatically." While your gadget won't update as you travel, or when daylight saving time rolls around, it also means a third party can't force it to a different date.
This isn't the first show-stopping error found in Apple gadgets this year. Learn about the growing threat of Error 53.