Error 53 is an error code that iTunes displays when an iPhone repaired with a third-party Touch ID module is updated to iOS 9. In other words, if the phone’s Touch ID sensor components (home button cable or home button, for instance) aren’t original after a repair, the phone gets bricked after a restore or OS update. Apple’s official statement says all Touch ID-based Apple devices that have their fingerprint-recognition feature components repaired/replaced by an unauthorized party will get the notorious error code.
According to the Cupertino-based tech giant, Error 53 is an iOS 9 security feature that helps customers secure their personal data. This means the error may not show up if an iPhone repaired by a non-Apple technician isn’t updated to iOS 9. When the phone’s updated to iOS 9, it’s rendered useless. All messages, photos and other data are lost – and become irretrievable.
Apple safeguards fingerprint information with a secure enclave that’s unique to every Touch ID sensor. The enclave’s walled off from the phone’s other hardware and software. Therefore, the OS and other apps can’t access the fingerprint information. The data is never moved to Apple servers or iCloud. Only Touch ID can use it.
When an Apple retail store or authorized Apple service company repairs the phone, it ensures the unique pairing is intact, thereby ensuring the fingerprint information and the device are secure. This means Error 53 isn’t just about third-party components. It’s a case of synchronization, wherein an iPhone can get bricked even if another iPhone’s OEM components are used as replacements.
Maybe, It’s Not Just the Touch ID
The first instance of an Error 53 came up in September, 2015 when an Apple store in the UK replaced multiple iPad Air screens. Some repair industry experts claimed the error code was not only linked to Touch ID; unauthorized screen repairs were also causing the issue. In fact, in some rare cases, Touch ID-based iPhones that have never been repaired before or compromised otherwise have got Error 53 after the OS update.
Apple’s Security Argument Not Valid
Apple’s whole argument behind customer data security doesn’t sound convincing. The phones turn useless only after an OS update, and not necessarily right after a repair at a third-party store. This begs the question: What if the customer doesn’t update the OS right after service, or does not install iOS 9 at all after repairs? What if the phone is updated a few weeks or months after repair? Does this mean the phone and its invaluable contents stay vulnerable during that time-gap between the repair and OS update? If so, then where’s real security?
When the unique pairing between the Touch ID sensor and unique enclave is compromised with, Apple disables Touch ID, which includes Apple Pay. This is to keep the device secure. However, instead of stopping with disabling Touch ID and its related functionalities, Apple goes ahead and makes the entire phone useless. Some believe Apple knew beforehand an Error 53 possibility, but chose to not warn its users.
Industry experts and consumers alike were not happy with Apple bricking the phone when it could have instead made the phone a PIN-only login device. Earlier, Apple came forward and replaced Error 53-affected iPhones with a new iPhone. But it later not just denied a replacement, but also refused to fix the problem.
Hinder Non-Apple Service Center Business
Some believe this move is perhaps Apple’s strategy to put third-party repairs and parts out of business and ensure buyers only come to Apple and its authorized units for any and every iPhone repair. And perhaps, this could be a way to make sure counterfeit iPhone replacement parts don’t get through.
Apple is ignoring reality. Apple may be having consumer’s interests in mind, but it’s apparently not considering ground reality. The repair costs at an Apple-authorized service center isn’t cheap. Moreover, not every country or region has an Apple retail store. This makes third-party repairs the sensible and perhaps the only option for the majority of iPhone users.
After all the backlash and bad press and being served a lawsuit in the States, Apple finally accepted its blunder and issued a fix through an updated version of iOS 9.2.1. According to some reports, Apple has instructed specific Apple stores to replace the troublemaking third-party components from the cursed iPhones to rectify Error 53. Customers who had an out-of-warranty device repair done were asked to contact AppleCare for reimbursements. However, the software fix won’t bring the dead Touch ID to life again since it’s a third-party, non-secure component.