iPhone and iPad

Error 53: Is Apple Really Bricking iPhones?

Harry Guinness 13-02-2016

News broke last week 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 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? 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 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 How to Back Up Your iPhone and iPad What would you do if you lost your iPhone tomorrow? You need to have a backup plan, and we'll show you how to back up to iCloud or 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 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.

Related topics: iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, Smartphone Repair, Smartphone Security.

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  1. Mike
    October 14, 2019 at 7:35 pm

    Apple is just a greedy insecure company who has people convinced that their products are better then everyone else, when in reality they just way over charge because people are dumb enough to believe the hype! They force people to rebuy their products by offering no options or assistance when you forget your Apple ID info due to whatever reason! Apple, Samsung, and other big name companies are just greedy companies and the fact that there are flagship killer Android phones such as the ZTE AXOM 10 which EASILY meets and beats the specs and performance of the very high priced "flagship" phones for HALF the cost is living proof of that! Apple is all hype and their fanboys are people with too much money with no common sense supporting a company who doesn't actually care about their customers (or they would offer help to those who accidentally lock themselves out of their phone) rather then force them to brick the phone and then have to go pay APPLE more money for a bit new one. Them claiming that they do all these "safety measures" with their products is bullcrap! It's about forcing you to pay them as much money as they can squeeze outta you, and not about customer service and satisfaction and it's DEFINATELY not about saving us money!

    • Sam C
      December 24, 2019 at 5:00 pm

      Take a breath and calm down.