iOS 9 is bricking iPhones that have unofficial components from third-party repairers

iPhone 6s Plus

Getting your iPhone repaired by a third-party is often cheaper than getting it repaired at the Apple Store, and in many cases, you won’t notice the difference. But that’s going to change. With iOS 9, Apple is said to be bricking devices that contain unofficial components.

The Guardian reports that after updating to iOS 9, many iPhone owners who have had their device repaired by a third-party are seeing an “Error 53” error. It seems the problem mostly effects those who have had display repairs that include new Touch ID sensors.

What’s really worrying about this issue is that many users have been able to use their device perfectly following the repair; it is only when they install Apple’s latest software updates that they see the error, which renders their device useless.

Furthermore, Apple doesn’t even offer a warning to users that their device could stop working if it has had a third-party repair.

Not only are users unable to use their device after updating, but they lose all of the data that was stored on it, too — including pictures and videos. Antonio Olmos, a freelance photographer, found this out the hard way while on an assignment for The Guardian in Macedonia.

“I was in the Balkans covering the refugee crisis in September when I dropped my phone. Because I desperately needed it for work I got it fixed at a local shop, as there are no Apple stores in Macedonia. They repaired the screen and home button, and it worked perfectly.”

Olmos continued to use his device without any problems until he installed a software update — at which point the Error 53 message was displayed and he could do nothing with it. Apple could not offer a fix, so Olmos had to pay £270 for a replacement device.

Trying to find out more about Error 53 is a difficult task. Apple employees seem to know very little about it, and they have no software that can fix it. They won’t even replace the third-party components with official ones because the device has been tampered with.

A new iPhone is the only option, then.

This seems to be a fairly widespread problem — and that’s not surprising given the popularity of the iPhone. According to Kyle Wiens, the man behind iFixit, the Error 53 page on their website has seen over 183,000 hits so far.

“The problem occurs if the repairer changes the home button or the cable,” explained Wiens. “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.”

Apple confirmed this to The Guardian in a statement that reads:

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.

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’s unclear is whether Error 53 really is meant to provide iPhone users with security, or whether it has been introduced simply to force consumers into paying Apple for future repairs. Either way, it looks like this is going to cause a lot of controversy.

We certainly haven’t heard the last of this yet. Have you been affected by Error 53?