Error 53: Apple warns iOS 9 bricks iPhone 6 in case of unauthorized Touch ID repair


The Guardian on Friday reported that unauthorized third-party repairs to the iPhone 6’s Touch ID Home button will brick the device as soon as iOS 9 is installed. Of course, we all know that using an unauthorized repair service not only voids warranty but puts oneself at risk of having a sub-par component that isn’t sanctioned by Apple.

But is deliberate bricking really necessary here? Should users be inconvenienced just because they trusted someone to change their phone’s Touch ID button or the cable connecting the Home button to the logic board? According to Apple, this is a security-related feature of iOS 9.

The affected customers see an “Error 53” after iOS 9 bricks their phone.

A completely bricked phone is reportedly unable to go past the “Connect to iTunes” screen and cannot be revived.

But this issue isn’t new.

“Though still largely a mystery to most, we now know that error 53 is the result of a hardware failure somewhere within the Home button assembly,” iCracked wrote back in November 2015.

Apple’s support documents mentions “Error 53“ in a section that details hardware issues, but does not detail what precisely it refers to.

“Your device or computer might have a hardware issue that stops the update or restore from completing,“ reads the document. This “feature” seems to activate itself only on iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus devices upgraded to iOS 9.

All of the components used for Touch ID, including the sensor itself, the Home button and the cables, use unique hardware numbers to ensure that, for example, a person can’t steal your device and break into it by rerouting Touch ID to their own sensor.

“We protect fingerprint data using a Secure Enclave, which is uniquely paired to the Touch ID sensor,” a spokesperson for Apple has clarified.

Apparently, when your iPhone is serviced by an authorized Apple service provider or retail store for changes that affect the Touch ID sensor, the “pairing is re-validated” to prevent unwanted changes to Touch ID hardware.

“This check ensures the device and the iOS features related to touch ID remain secure,” insists Apple. “Without this unique pairing, a malicious Touch ID sensor could be substituted, thereby gaining access to the secure enclave. When iOS detects that the pairing fails, Touch ID, including Apple Pay, is disabled so the device remains secure.”

Web reports and a growing thread on the Apple Discussion forums indicate that many people are enraged at lack of communication on Apple’s part regarding “Error 53”.

“The whole thing is extraordinary. How can a company deliberately make their own products useless with an upgrade and not warn their own customers about it? Outside of the big industrialized nations, Apple stores are few and far between, and damaged phones can only be brought back to life by small third-party repairers,” wrote a customer from India.

iFixit founder Kyle Wiens told The Guardian that the “Error 53” page on their website had more than 183,000 hits, suggesting this is a big problem for users.

“The problem occurs if the repairer changes the Home button or the cable,” he explains. “Following the software upgrade the phone in effect checks to make sure it is still using the original components, and if it isn’t, it simply locks out the phone. There is no warning, and there’s no way that I know of to bring it back to life.”

On its part, Apple is asking the affected users to contact its support. One affected customer was told by an employee of Apple’s retail store in London that there was nothing they could do, “and that his phone was now junk.”

As a reminder, Apple’s standard 1-year warranty for the iPhone in the United States clearly states that the warranty does not apply to damage “caused by service (including upgrades and expansions) performed by anyone who is not a representative of Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider” or if the handset “has been modified to alter functionality or capability” without the written permission of Apple.

Source: The Guardian