iOS 9 bricks iPhones with unauthorized Touch ID repairs

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touchid

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.