Skype users, beware: there's an eight-character phrase that will lock people out of the popular video chat and messaging service's apps on most devices where it's available.
People who rely on Skype's Windows desktop, iOS and Android apps should be aware that receiving a message of "http://:" (without the quotes) will cause the app to crash. When they try to restart the app, it will crash again on startup, locking them out of the service. If there's a silver lining, Skype's Mac app and Modern Windows app, which is available for download through the Windows Store, seem unaffected by the bug.
The problem was first spotted by users on Skype's community support forums. According to a report by VentureBeat, a user who goes by the handle "Giperion" posted about the issue first, noting that deleting the chat history on a device didn't help, since Skype would automatically download it again from the cloud after starting back up, and then promptly crash again. That thread has since been deleted for reasons that are unclear.
A Skype spokeswoman said in an emailed statement that the company was "aware of the problem and [is] working to provide a resolution." Beyond that, there isn't a public timeline for a permanent fix, or a clear reason why that string of characters causes the bug. Getting the sender of the offending message to delete it and then downgrading Skype from version 7 to version 6 is supposed to let a user continue to access the service on Windows, for those users who need a temporary solution.
The issue is reminiscent of a problem with Apple's Messages app on iOS, which would also crash and refuse to open if users received a specific string of Arabic characters. Unfortunately, that problem is more easily solved -- users just need to reply to the message using Siri, and people who don't write in Arabic likely won't be affected, unless one of their friends decides to be mean. This string seems like something users could conceivably type in Skype by mistake.