A number of Android smartphones are at risk of suffering a fatal system error if the user sets a specific image as their wallpaper. The discovery was first publicized by popular Twitter account Ice Universe and has since been confirmed by users who tested the warning for themselves. The issue, it turns out, is the image's color space and Android's current inability to deal with it.

There's nothing inherently malicious about the image shared by Ice Universe; it shows an idyllic landscape complete with water, mountains and clouds. The problem, investigators have discovered, is that its color space is incompatible with Android, which currently doesn't have a method in place to detect this incompatibility and convert the image to color space it supports.

Setting the image as an Android wallpaper will cause the phone to crash; it will reboot, but soon crash again, in most cases doing this too quickly for the user to change their wallpaper to something else. As a result, the user is forced to factory reset the device, losing any images and other data that wasn't backed up beforehand.

As expected, this issue isn't limited to only this particular image -- any non-sRGB image may potentially cause the same crash. Android Authority recently spoke with a developer who shed light on the problem with a long, technical answer for those who are interested. Put simply: Android can only deal with sRGB images as wallpapers and doesn't currently know how to handle certain non-sRGB images, triggering an infinite loop of fatal errors that forces the user to factory reset their device.

As noted by multiple Android developers, as well as 9to5Google, not all Android phones are vulnerable to this bug, though many major ones are, including older Google Pixel phones, Samsung smartphones and more. 9to5Google's Dylan Roussel reports that the Pixel 4 XL running Android 11 doesn't not crash from this image while the Pixel 3 XL on Android 10 does.

In Android 11, the system will detect if the wallpaper's color space isn't supported and will convert it to something it does support. Though Android 10 doesn't have this same capability, it seems Google is already working on a fix for this problem, which means older Android phones that don't update to Android 11 will eventually be protected from the bug, as well.

Until that happens, however, there's a big problem for Android users: now that the bug has been widely publicized, there will no doubt be some people who deliberately seed these problematic images to mobile wallpaper websites in an effort to crash devices.

Though the bug doesn't totally brick the device, it does often force a factory reset; many users report being unable to resolve the issue in Safe Mode. This means that many users who aren't careful may end up losing some of their data.

Ice Universe notes that when the image is uploaded to other social media websites, it is converted and becomes safe to use with Android; only the image uploaded to Twitter retains its problematic color space.

To protect one's self, Android users can avoid publicly offered wallpapers until the Android 11 update arrives, they can limit their wallpapers to their own images or official manufacturer theme stores or there's always the option of manually checking that an image is compatible before setting it as one's Android wallpaper.