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News broke last week Apple Bricks iPhones On Purpose, Google Tackles ISIS With Ads... [Tech News Digest] Apple Bricks iPhones On Purpose, Google Tackles ISIS With Ads... [Tech News Digest] Error 53 can kill your iPhone, Google uses ads to deter terrorism, Yahoo Games is no more, The Frinkiac is a search engine for The Simpsons, and the robot golfer who scored a hole-in-one. Read More of a mysterious Error 53 that was bricking iPhones. The Guardian initially reported that:

“Thousands of iPhone 6 users claim they have been left holding almost worthless phones because Apple’s latest operating system permanently disables the handset if it detects that a repair has been carried out by a non-Apple technician.”

They further investigated and found that the issue affects iPhones “where the home button, which has touch ID fingerprint recognition built-in, has been repaired by a ‘non-official’ company or individual.”

So does Apple have it in for customers who have the temerity to get their iPhones repaired by a third party or is something more going on? Let’s have a look.

Touch ID: The Apparent Cause

Almost every report of Error 53 is tied to the Home Button, or rather, to the Touch ID sensor contained within it. People are encountering the problem when they have the Home Button replaced by a third-party or it’s badly damaged. So what about Touch ID is causing the problem?

Touch ID was originally introduced with the iPhone 5s Apple Releases iPhone 5s With Touch ID, Faster Processor & New Camera Features Apple Releases iPhone 5s With Touch ID, Faster Processor & New Camera Features As expected, Apple introduced the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c this week. iPhone 5s now comes in two new colors, gold and silver, has a fingerprint identity sensor, and a faster iSight camera. Read More  and from the start has been quite controversial Does the iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner Increase The Chance of Theft? Does the iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner Increase The Chance of Theft? The iPhone's new fingerprint sensor seems like a great way to use biometrics to keep the device secure and personal, but could the feature be used against the owner to circumvent existing protections? Read More . When you set Touch ID up on a new iPhone, it records a compressed version of your fingerprint. This compressed version is basically a unique hash that encodes the characteristics of your fingerprint that make it unique to you. This hash is stored in a special part of the iPhone’s processor that Apple calls the Security Enclave. All the information is kept on the phone rather than being uploaded to iCloud or any of Apple’s other servers.


Whenever you use Touch ID the process is repeated. Your fingerprint is reanalysed and if the resulting hash matches the one stored in the iPhone’s Security Enclave the phone is unlocked, the Apple Pay payment is processed, or the app you wanted is purchased. If it doesn’t, then whatever you were trying to do is stopped. Keeping your iPhone secure from fingerprint attacks, like the ones the Verge claims can affect Android phones with fingerprint sensors, is entirely dependent on ensuring that Touch ID and the Secure Enclave is never tampered with. This is where Error 53 comes in.

Third Party Tampering

One type of potential attack would involve replacing the Touch ID sensor with a compromised version. There is no reason to believe this has happened yet but it is a potential vector and one Apple is aware of. For this reason, when you upgrade your iPhone to a new version of iOS, it checks to make sure that Touch ID hasn’t been tampered with. If it has, then Error 53 triggers and your phone is locked. For an even more secure system, Apple should arguably be checking the components even more often than they do.

The issue then, is not so much that Apple is blocking third-party repairs, but that third-party repairs are triggering the error. There are many iPhone repairs you can even do yourself How to Fix an iPhone Yourself How to Fix an iPhone Yourself Over a few weeks, the angle I needed to plug the lightning cable into my iPhone 5S got more and more specific, until one day it just wouldn't charge. It was dead. Read More as long as you are careful. According to Kyle Wiens from iFixit, the problem occurs when the Home Button or the cable connecting it to the motherboard is replaced. As long as you don’t interfere with either of these components, the majority of repairs should still be possible.

What Can You Do?

First, if your iPhone has Error 53, Apple recommends contacting their support team. What happens next depends largely on your exact circumstances. The age of your phone, state of your warranty, insurance, and exact problem will all play a role. Given the furore that has surrounded the situation, Apple may make more allowances than they otherwise would have.

Second, for the time being it seems safest to get any repairs to the Home Button or Touch ID set up done by an authorised repair centre. Even if it costs more initially, the cost of replacing your iPhone if the error is triggered could be far higher.

Third, if you’re going to repair your iPhone yourself, make sure you buy your components from a reputable site like iFixit. There are some reports of faulty screens also causing the component check to fail.

And lastly, the whole situation is a reminder to keep your iPhone backed up. If you don’t already have a backup setup, we’ve got an entire article that will walk you through setting one up Everything You Need to Know About Backing Up & Restoring Your iPhone from iTunes Everything You Need to Know About Backing Up & Restoring Your iPhone from iTunes Most iPhone users take for granted that the contents of their iPhone is backed up wirelessly to their iCloud account, but it is still useful to know how to restore your iPhone from iTunes. Read More . With services like iCloud Backup, there is no excuse for losing more than a day or two’s worth of text messages if your phone dies. Although Error 53 appears to be a particularly annoying issue, you should always make sure you are protected against data loss.

Wrapping Up

The Error 53 situation seems to be a giant mess. Information security is always about threading the line between keeping unwanted users from accessing your device without inconveniencing legitimate users too much. That’s why experts recommend people use strong unique passwords 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember If your passwords are not unique and unbreakable, you might as well open the front door and invite the robbers in for lunch. Read More but so few people actually do; remembering a long password is more effort than many people are willing to make.

It would appear that in this case Apple has their users’s best interests at heart. Error 53 is a security feature that’s being triggered by what the company sees as a legitimate concern. Given the number of complaints from customers, however, it seems that Apple may have strayed too far across the line and has started inconveniencing their legitimate users.

With all the uproar surrounding things, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple rethink how this exact security mechanism is implemented.

Has Apple gone too far or are the media overreacting to a legitimate (if annoying) security feature? Let us know in the comments below.

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    February 21, 2016 at 4:09 am

    One more(of many) reason to NEVER BUY icrap! They have gone WAY too far this time! Nothing but Androids from here on out for me.

    • Harry Guinness
      February 25, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      Because Android has no issues...

  2. dave
    February 19, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    Harry - care to rethink your comments now Apple have confirmed it was their fault...?

    • Harry Guinness
      February 25, 2016 at 4:23 pm

      Nah, I stand by what I said as correct by the best information available at the time. Unfortunately I can't edit articles after publication to put a disclaimer at the top with the new info.

  3. Skeelz
    February 17, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Apple is becoming a bully to its users and customers..
    Just very unfair and making Tech flexibility a major concern; everything is streamlined and rigid.
    From error 3194 to Error 34 to Error 53 .. Gosh
    I Tried to google the amount of errors they have and its heart retching, I've personally dumped iphones for Samsung phones, at least i have peace of mind and not worry if my next action will KEEP ME HOSTAGE me from using the very gadget i bought with my Money.... MY OWN MONEY

    • Harry Guinness
      February 25, 2016 at 4:24 pm

      Tech always has errors. The Blue Screen of Death has plagued Windows machines for decades.

      • keith
        May 25, 2016 at 6:23 pm

        The BSOD on a windows machine is, in 99% of cases, repairable...Generally a software issue which can be sorted out. A blue screen on an idevice means its f**ked. Poor comparison here buddy

  4. Pradip Shah
    February 17, 2016 at 6:16 am

    The heading in the mail linking to this article mentions something like "Unix Flaw Bricks iPhones". What has Unix got to do with how Apple decided to implement it ? Why such misleading headers?

    How does this compare with ridiculous cost of nearly $ 150/- for replacing the microphone on some of the iPads. This is close to 50 % of the price one might have paid for the device itself !

    • Harry Guinness
      February 25, 2016 at 4:31 pm

      Someone messed up! Around the same time there was a Unix flaw with changing your date to 1970 crashing your phone.

      And as for the replacement, a huge part is labour in a first world country.

      • Pradip Shah
        February 25, 2016 at 5:47 pm

        Not really. It costs equivalent of $ 100/- + here in India where labour is a whole lot cheaper.

        BTW Apple OS is not based on Linux but on BSD.

  5. Bruce
    February 16, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Good work Apple. The Error #53 logic is protecting me. I'm happy. Please continue with this policy. Don't change it.
    Bruce from Canberra, Oz

    • Harry Guinness
      February 25, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      Apple tends to be very good about security as their fight with the FBI shows.

  6. Jxsxn
    February 16, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    I had my phone bricked without ever receiving any third party replacements. I had a screen crack going down to the home button/Touch ID. After receiving a message that my iPhone could not update via wifi, I plugged it into my Mac and opened iTunes...


    Error code 53, stuck in a loop, with no apple reference to what error 53 meant - for at least a week. Then I finally started piecing info together as it came out. I waited to see if Apple would change their error 53 protocol. Eventually had to pay for half the original cost of a new phone.

    This article confirmed my suspicion. I shoulda never updated once my screen was cracked that bad. Insurance? From now on.

    • Harry Guinness
      February 25, 2016 at 4:43 pm

      Contact them now. You may be able to get a refund.

  7. NoMan
    February 16, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Dear Apple Apologists, would you be as understanding if Honda or Ford "bricked" your car because you didn't use a factory part and allowed the garage down the street to install it at half the price? "Sorry, you'll have to buy a new car. It's a security feature."

    • Anonymous
      February 16, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Best. Reply. Ever.

      Let Them Brick My 1992 ZX.


    • Harry Guinness
      February 25, 2016 at 4:43 pm

      John Deere is trying to bring something in. Car companies also try and make you use authorised repair centres.

  8. 919263
    February 15, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    I dont see what is the big deal about changing the Touch ID sensor.
    So you broke it, took it to the back ally someplace and there is a repair shop. He said he can change it for $15, Apple wanted $150 for the same, so you think, well, I do save a lot of money, and go ahead and get it replaced by this guy for $15.

    Now suddenly the security Demons wake up (Apple) Wow the Touch Sensor is different... I should brick the phone.....

    Wait, there may be another simpler way of taking care of this....
    Dear User: We have noticed that the Sensor is different, this may have happened as you may have broken it and gotten it replaced for cheap... We will punish you for that, dont worry but for now any app you have been using that was unlocked by your Fingerprint would stay locked unless you use your security code, and to update the fingerprint and validate the touch ID/Sensor and to tell us that you still own the phone and it is not stolen, just re-register your fingerprint using the new (Cheaper) touch ID sensor... AND DONT F_CK this up again...

  9. Lorcan
    February 15, 2016 at 11:36 am

    Simple solution for Apple, without compromising their security concerns, would be to disable touch ID and rely on password ID. If password ID is good enough for lots of Apple products, it should be good enough for these phones too.

    Going beyond such a response is an act of bad faith by apple! Hopefully legal censure will force them to correct their anti-competitive actions.

    • Harry Guinness
      February 15, 2016 at 11:46 am

      Yeah the full bricking is excessive but I can understand the logic. I also highly doubt they'll be stung by the legal system. What they're doing isn't anti-competitive in the traditional sense. There's no legal requirement to allow third party repairs that I'm aware of.

      • fcd76218
        February 15, 2016 at 3:29 pm

        "What they’re doing isn’t anti-competitive in the traditional sense."
        More and more "smart" devices are hitting the market. A portion of them will break. "Smart" device manufacturers follow Apple's lead and program their devices to brick themselves if not fixed by an authorized repair facility. Would that be anti-competitive in your opinion?

        Suppose car manufacturers program their cars to be only repaired by a dealer. Would that constitute restraint of trade?

      • Lorcan
        February 15, 2016 at 4:48 pm

        I can't speak for the USA, but here in Europe what Apple have done may well be seen as excessive / vindictive / disproportionate and ultimately anti-competitive.

        In my opinion this stems from Apple's desire to offset flagging iphone sales by forcing customers to come back to Apple for any after-sales issues. No other explanation makes sense - if Apple were genuinely motivated by security concerns they would have taken alternative actions.

        In the UK there has been informed suggestion that Apple's actions will give rise to culpability under the 1971 Criminal Damage Act. Other countries will no doubt have similar legislation. Watch this space......

  10. Paul
    February 15, 2016 at 6:17 am

    Apple doesn't believe you own your phone. You pay for it, but they tell you what you can and can't do with it. A security warning message would have been plenty to tell people they're at risk because of a third-party repair. Bricking the phone is just going to force people to another manufacturer, like Samsung.

    • Harry Guinness
      February 15, 2016 at 11:44 am

      Well no, the issue isn't that a third party repair centre is going to compromise it. The issue is that someone will steal your phone and then swap the TouchID sensor for a compromised one. A warning would do nothing in this case.

      • Paul
        February 15, 2016 at 6:22 pm

        In that case, disable the features that rely on it, not brick the entire phone.

        I get that concerned with Apple Pay and potential theft, so disable that feature if the security measures for it are compromised and throw up a warning so the owner knows if it was them that did the repair. If it was a thief that did it, then they'll know their attempt to use the phone to steal the owners money didn't work, as well, effectively killing this reason for theft - a win for owners.

        This problem is reportedly hitting people with just cracked screens that the owners have decided not to repair, because the phone is still usable, as well. On top of that, Apple no where says they will destroy your phone in their EULA at their sole discretion - for any reason, so they're effectively putting themselves in a legal issue. There's already a class-action suit against them over this out of Seattle.

        Bricking the entire phone is just Apple punishing people for not getting repairs done by Apple authorized repair centers at their insane prices. It's super arrogant. Typical Apple.

  11. rob
    February 14, 2016 at 11:47 am

    Not an apple user but: Surely making fingerprint isn't the only user validation method.

    Suppose you damage your finger and it's bandaged, does that mean you can't use your phone? Or suppose you just do something that changes the appearance of your fingertip - I don't know but maybe cuts, bruises, ink stains, changed appearance between cold and hot skin temperature.

    What happens if you sell your phone or perhaps give your old one to a relative when you upgrade?

    Surely there's an override mechanism like a (strong) password (and once logged in a "reset fingerprint recognition" option),

    • fcd76218
      February 14, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      Apple wants to get paid every time there is a change in the status of a iPhone. That is why I use a flip phone. I do not need anybody's permission or blessing if I want to sell it or give it to somebody. And a flip phone does not store any sensitive information.

      • Mike
        February 14, 2016 at 10:54 pm

        Rob, you have two ways to log in. Touch and a PIN number. If your thumb is damaged you can open with PIN. If you sell or give it to someone the factory reset erases all data for new user. I have never had any trouble.

      • Harry Guinness
        February 15, 2016 at 11:43 am

        @fcd76218 I think you'll really struggle to sell a flip phone for much! And although an iPhone stores a lot of sensitive information, to me the extra features are well worth it.

    • Harry Guinness
      February 15, 2016 at 11:42 am

      @Rob As Mike says, TouchID works in concert with the pass code. Also when you wipe your phone it wipes the TouchID details.

  12. Nope
    February 14, 2016 at 3:34 am

    I have never, nor will ever, own an apple product. ;)

    • Harry Guinness
      February 15, 2016 at 11:41 am


  13. Jeena Bittenbender
    February 13, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    Kevin, don't you know that that's not even possible if you don't have anyone repair the screen because the phone is fully functional?? Get real!!!

  14. fcd76218
    February 13, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    If I go to an Apple Store to have my Home Button replaced or worked on, how do the employees ascertain that the iPhone does indeed belong to me and is not stolen? Do they give me the third degree? Do they make me swear on a Steve Jobs biography? Do they make me pinky swear? Or do they just go ahead and fix the damn thing and collect an exorbitant repair fee?

    • Kevin
      February 13, 2016 at 8:42 pm

      Well if you send your phone to apple and fix it, they will erase all the data on the phone before they hand it back to you. It's better to have it this way, or you risk your apple pay end up being used by someone who got your iphone.

    • Harry Guinness
      February 15, 2016 at 11:41 am

      If it's under warranty or you're using Apple Care then the serial number will be linked to your name and the receipt. And as Kevin says, they wipe it anyway.

  15. Jeena
    February 13, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    I would believe that but if you read further into the problem you'll find that among the effected iPhones are also phones where the screens were cracked but still usable. So I think it's a huge bunch of Bull****. Try another excuse Apple....

    • Kevin
      February 13, 2016 at 8:49 pm

      Don't you know one can hack a phone via hacking the screen? I would say apple is taking security very serious, maybe it just pissed people, but better than getting flamed by all those hacked apple pay fraud. I wouldn't want my apple pay to get hacked.

      • Jeena Bittenbender
        February 13, 2016 at 10:24 pm

        Get real. People are having their phones bricked with cracked screens that have never been repaired because the phones fully functional...