Users who had their iPhone 6 unit repaired by third-party technicians have started reporting a mysterious “error 53” problem which bricks their handset (via the Guardian). The issue seems to be specific to iPhone 6 users who have had their Touch ID repaired by a “non-official” company or individual.
Interestingly, the problem appeared only after iOS 9 was pushed out. Users speaking with the Guardian say they had no issues with iOS 8.2 (or earlier) installed: seems as though the latest software detects if a non-official repair was made on the iPhone’s Touch ID.
iFixit’s Kyle Wiens said their “error 53” page had more than 183,000 hits, which suggests this is a problem Apple users are facing. He also detailed to the Guardian when the problem occurs.
“The problem occurs if the repairer changes the home button or the cable. 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.”
At this point it is unclear whether this is a deliberate move from Apple to squeeze out “non-official” repair guys and force Apple users to visit an Apple Store for a repair.
When contacted by the Guardian, an Apple spokeswoman explained:
“We protect fingerprint data using a secure enclave, which is uniquely paired to the touch ID sensor. When iPhone is serviced by an authorised Apple service provider or Apple retail store for changes that affect the touch ID sensor, the pairing is re-validated. This check ensures the device and the iOS features related to touch ID remain secure. 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.”
She adds: “When an iPhone is serviced by an unauthorised repair provider, faulty screens or other invalid components that affect the touch ID sensor could cause the check to fail if the pairing cannot be validated. With a subsequent update or restore, additional security checks result in an ‘error 53’ being displayed … If a customer encounters an unrecoverable error 53, we recommend contacting Apple support.”
What makes this case particularly interesting is that Apple doesn’t warn users about the issue. So, if you have had your Touch ID repaired by a third party, well, you may soon end up with a brick in your pocket.