iPhone ‘Error 53’: Apple handsets can be completely locked down if they are fixed by anyone but Apple

Andrew Griffin
Friday 05 February 2016 14:00

iPhone owners could be left with completely broken phones by a mysterious error that renders the handsets unusable.

Users across the internet are complaining that their iPhones have fallen victim to “Error 53”, which shows up on the phone’s screen and prevents it from doing anything else. There appears to be no way of getting rid of the problem, short of getting a whole new handset.

The error appears to happen when the phone detects that it has been repaired by a third-party. If unofficial parts are put into the phone, it will detect it and then shut the phone down entirely. Apple said that check was to ensure that customers' phones stayed safe.

"We take customer security very seriously and Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customers," an Apple spokesperson said. "iOS checks that the Touch ID sensor in your iPhone or iPad correctly matches your device’s other components. If iOS finds a mismatch, the check fails and Touch ID, including for Apple Pay use, is disabled.

"This security measure is necessary to protect your device and prevent a fraudulent Touch ID sensor from being used. If a customer encounters Error 53, we encourage them to contact Apple Support. "

The issue appears to be limited to Apple’s most recent major software update, iOS 9. But it works retroactively, so that phones that have been repaired in the past could break as soon as they are updated to the new operating system.

The problems have been occurring since that update was pushed out late last year, it seems.

Error 53 is related to repairing the home button, which also includes the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. The problems appear to occur because Apple wants to ensure that the hardware — which is used to get access to everything on the phone as well as to make payments — stays safe.

The data from the fingerprint is stored within its own special area of the phone, Apple told the Guardian. With an Apple repair, the connection between the phone and the sensor will be re-checked — but third-party repairs won’t do that, and the phone will therefore shut itself down to ensure that it stays safe.

The company says that it wouldn’t be secure to use the fingerprint sensor in any other way.

“Without this unique pairing, a malicious touch ID sensor could be substituted, thereby gaining access to the secure enclave,” Apple told the Guardian. “When iOS detects that the pairing fails, touch ID, including Apple Pay, is disabled so the device remains secure.

The top five features in Apple's iOS 9

“If the problem occurs, Apple suggests making sure that the phone is plugged in to the latest version of iTunes. If that doesn’t fix the phone, then users should force restart it by holding down both the sleep button and the home button until it reboots. Then users should try again to restore it through iTunes.

If none of those solutions work, Apple recommends that users go to an Apple Store or another authorised service centre. The company will be able to fix the problem if the parts were installed through an official repairs service, and will be able to provide pricing information about having the phone repaired.

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