iOS 9 bricks iPhones with unauthorized Touch ID repairs



Photo: Apple

Getting a broken home button on your iPhone 6 replaced may cause the entire device to become a worthless brick of metal and glass.

Thanks to a new feature in a software update recently pushed out by Apple, thousands of iPhone users who had their devices fixed by non-official repair shops have been greeted by a disastrous “error 53” message that locks the device — and even the Apple Store can’t bring it back from the dead.

“The problem occurs if the repairer changes the home button or the cable,” iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens told The Guardian. “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.”

Just Google “iPhone 6 error 53” and you’ll find tons of outraged iPhone users whose devices have been bricked by iOS 9. Most (if not all) had absolutely no idea that updating the software on their devices would render them worthless, even though the iPhone may have worked just fine for weeks or months after the original unauthorized repair.

Apple confirmed that it’s aware of the issue, but says it’s actually a feature of iOS 9.2.1 that is intended to protect the Secure Enclave that contains your fingerprint information. Without the feature, a hacker could put a malicious Touch ID sensor on your iPhone and gain access to the Secure Enclave.

“When iPhone is serviced by an authorized Apple service provider or Apple retail store for changes that affect the Touch ID sensor, the pairing is re-validated,” said an Apple rep. “This check ensures the device and the iOS features related to Touch ID remain secure…. When iOS detects that the pairing fails, Touch ID, including Apple Pay, is disabled so the device remains secure.”

The problem with Apple’s security feature is that it disables the entire device, instead of just Touch ID and the Secure Enclave. Getting your iPhone repaired by Apple isn’t easy when you don’t live near an Apple Store. Apple needs to find a way to strike a balance between security and repairability.

Faulty screens or other invalid components can also cause authentification to fail and brick the device. Customers who encounter the unrecoverable error 53 are recommended to contact Apple support, though it probably won’t do you much good.

  • andyjeffries

    “Apple needs to find a way to strike a balance between security and repairability.”

    I completely disagree. When credit card details are stored in the phone, there is no balance or compromise – keep the damn data secure! There would be a public outrage if people’s credit card data were used after their phone is stolen, so Apple is doing the right thing here. Of course, I’m sure before long people will find a way round, some jailbreak-alike way of repairing a 3rd party replacement home button…

    • Gregg_Thurman

      Totally agree with Mr. Jeffries. Liability from breached security far outweighs any inconvenience caused by “repairability”.

  • AAPL.To.Break.$130.Soon>:-)

    Apple is smart for doing this. There are always going to be critics who feel Apple is going overboard for the sake of making more money. I don’t know if that’s true in some cases, but in this case I think they’re right in making sure consumers’ mobile payment data stays secure. When it comes to security it’s better not to take shortcuts.

    • Skender Gashi

      Hahha doing what forcing ppl to buy new Phones remember the iOS update and where it messed up the iPhone 4 and 4s so this ppl can also be forced to buy a new phone right there is a lawsuit about that and am sure there will be one about this and where they will loose the market share look at it know it is happening as we speak look at their stock they will be hated around the world for this

      • Anthony Velazquez

        Forced to buy a new phone?

        “When iPhone is serviced by an authorized Apple service provider or Apple retail store for changes that affect the Touch ID sensor, the pairing is re-validated,” said an Apple rep.

        So, basically go to an Apple Store.

  • This is simple. If Exchanging a sensor can exploit a serious flaw on your phone that contains sensitive information then i see no Problem with Apple doing this regardless of any Balance.

    • aardman

      As a security policy, it’s fine. But Apple
      could have warned people that this was going to happen and set up a program where the affected iPhone owners can present their bonafides and Apple grandfathers their iPhones.

  • Skender Gashi

    Just Look at the stock there is a lot off pissed of iPhone users out there with this issue. Apple needs to understand that when you disable some ones phone for no reason or hoping they would get a new one is in no way right trust me there is a lot of them going to Samsung or other because of this…

  • matt

    When I had my 6s plus screen replaced , the Apple Store cleared my finger prints. So maybe even an official screen replacement requires the Touch ID sensor to be paired again ?