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You are here: Home / Mobile Security / What's Turning iPhones into Bricks?
What's Turning iPhones into Useless Bricks?
What's Turning iPhones into Useless Bricks?
By Shirley Siluk / Enterprise Security Today Like this on Facebook Tweet this Link thison Linkedin Link this on Google Plus
iPhone owners who use third-party repair services are finding their devices can suddenly become useless "bricks" after they update the iOS operating system. Apple confirmed yesterday that the disabling "Error 53" occurs because the company wants to prevent Touch ID-related security problems that could be introduced by unauthorized repairs.

Reports about the iPhone-killing Error 53 have circulated at least since the spring, when The Daily Dot's Mike Wehner wrote that his iPhone 6 Plus died after he disabled the device's Touch ID because of repeated problems with the feature. Following an update to iOS 8.3 not long afterward, Wehner saw this message on his phone, "An unknown error occurred (53)" and discovered his device had "breathed its last breath."

Since then, numerous iPhone users have described similar experiences on Twitter and Apple's online support forums. The Guardian reported today that complaints about the issue from iPhone 6 owners number in the "thousands." Apple confirmed the cause of the disabling Error 53 in a statement to The Guardian.

The Price of Out-of-Warranty Repairs

Apple has not yet responded to our request for comment about the Error 53 complaints. However, a support page on the Apple site last updated on December 21 advised iPhone owners with the problem to contact Apple Support.

"If your iOS device has Touch ID (pictured above), iOS checks that the Touch ID sensor matches your device's other components during an update or restore," the page noted, adding that this is intended to ensure security for iOS features related to Touch ID. "When iOS finds an unidentified or unexpected Touch ID module, the check fails. For example, an unauthorized or faulty screen replacement could cause the check to fail."

The support page advised iPhone or iPad owners who had their devices serviced by people other than Apple Service Center technicians, Apple Store employees or authorized Apple service providers should "contact Apple Support about pricing information for out-of-warranty repairs."

Owner Overrides an Alternative?

Writing today in Boing Boing, writer and social commentator Cory Doctorow observed that concerns about tampering prevention and security could be addressed by enabling owner overrides -- that is, allowing a device owner to specify that the unauthorized third-party repairs had been approved.

"[T]he phones that Apple is remote-killing haven't been doctored: they've been fixed," he noted. "There are many independent service centers for Apple's products where you can get your phone fixed more cheaply than the official rate. Independent service centers also thrive in places where there are no Apple service centers at all."

Today's Guardian article described freelance photographer Antonio Olmos' difficulty with just such a situation: Olmos was covering the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe recently when he dropped his iPhone and went to a local repair shop because "there are no Apple stores in Macedonia."

Although the phone worked fine after the repairs, it stopped working and displayed the Error 53 message when he installed an iOS update later, he said. Olmos had to spend nearly $400 for a replacement phone. "The whole thing is extraordinary," he told The Guardian.

Image credit: Product shot by Apple. Pictured: iPhone 6 Plus with Touch ID.

Tell Us What You Think


Mark Vender:
Posted: 2016-02-09 @ 11:12am PT
Error 53 is a killing error message for iPhone. Apple tried to capture all business completely even for repairing iPhones, and iPads. Apple should let users have their gadgets repaired by experts anywhere.

Posted: 2016-02-08 @ 10:16am PT
Time to switch to Samsung I guess.

Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 12:37pm PT
The FTC should bring an anti-trust action against apple.

This is clearly anti-competetive behavior.

Carolyn S.:
Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 11:28am PT
We have 2 stores in S Central MT. C village is owned by an idiot that CHARGES if you return a product, makes it clear You are being "blessed' by his store. (Same party Owns OTHER stores in The Dakotas.) Simply Mac opened. WAS great, when I bought my refurbished Air. Saw someone dragging Good MGR out the door, 8mos to 1 yr later. Then they went to crap, not even answering their phone. Nearly a YR after telling me they would recycle my Snow Leopard, I received a letter saying I needed to contact them or deal with Storage Fees??!!! THIS time, I was able to contact a VM, leaving a message of annoyance.

When I CALL Apple, they are Phenomenal. Whenever they let loose of all those considering themselves 'above' all others, *LIKE the District/Regional MGR out here* Same who use the Apple logo, they will be a 'Successful' Business. If something happens to my Mac or iTouch, they will be shipped to family who have Apple centers nearby, MAY ship in for repairs, or left unused. No time, money or patience for games.

SERIOUSLY doubt this is what Steve would want..

Dean Winchester:
Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 10:38am PT
Dear idiots,
Apple is not trying to control EVERYTHING. It is not trying to force EVERY repair to go through them. They are trying to save you from yourself. If you put your security into the hands of strangers who can install inferior security devices that may unintentionally or worse, intentionally compromise all of your data, they are doing you a kindness. Stop being cheap skates, especially where privacy and security are concerned. Apple phones with iPay that have third party security hardware pose a far bigger threat to you and banks and Apple than your unwillingness to pay a little extra for proper security. Apple makes it less than inconvenient to drop ship phones for repairs, even if you are in Macedonia.

If you are willing to open up your data to the world and get victimized by identity thieves over an extra fifty bucks, go get an Android phone.

Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 10:29am PT
While I'm sure Apple owner aren't happy that Apple has done this - I'd never pay for the privilege of owning an Apple product! The cost far outweighs any "coolness" points of owning an Apple product!

Steve J.:
Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 10:24am PT
If it's fair for Apple to require that all repairs be performed by Apple then it's fair that all repairs to my car be performed by the manufacturer.

Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 10:18am PT
Unacceptable conditions from The Apple corporation.

Samsung Lover:
Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 10:15am PT
I hope other companies glean from this that they should stay open. In that, Apple attempts to control everything. Their own cords, their software does not play well with others, and now you can only use their service people. Good strategy to corral all dollars, bad strategy to entice customers. I want to pick the phone i like and stay because it's good. Not pick a phone and stay because i am trapped. F.Apple.

Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 10:09am PT
Sounds like typical corporate crap

Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 10:07am PT
I am in favor insuring the security of the device but Apple should just disable those services that are dependent on security, not the whole device.

Richard Howland:
Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 10:07am PT
Another indicator that Apple is in decline. A Nexus 6P is lightyears better than anything Apple will ever produce. I used to be an Apple evangelist. My first computer was a Mac Plus and I'd owned, used and recommended Apple products for decades. But Apple lost my support in 2011. I still think Max OS is a brilliant effort, but it's not the clear leader in the OS space anymore. Apple hardware has been nothing but trouble for me since about 2009. Their products are prone to breaking, expensive to fix, and prohibitively expensive to replace. Also, let's not fail to remember abused workers who have committed suicide under Apple's outsourcing. We all can do better these days. Apple's time has come and now gone.

Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 10:00am PT
Sounds like a class action lawsuit in the making to me... Especially since Apple refuses to really comment and is trying force each customer by using: we have your data and the only way you'll get it back is if we overcharge you for it by buying a new phone. Shame on them.

Big N8 @ Delve Alpha:
Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 9:53am PT
I have done 1000 of these. It has nothing to do with WHO fixes the phone but rather HOW they fix it. If you replace your screen, you must keep the original Home button/Touch ID or you will get Error 53. If you have the original Home button/Touch ID and you still get Error 53, then your LCD Flex cable is bad/damaged and needs to be replaced. There are some misc. hardware failures that will cause Error 53, but this is rare. If your Home button/Touch ID is original and your LCD flex cable is good you will be able to Restore/Upgrade all day long with no issues.

mark guertin:
Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 9:47am PT
I have an iPhone. It's never been repaired. It is the worst quality cell phone I have owned in 20 years bar none. I have no clue why they are popular but rest assured I will never own one again.

Posted: 2016-02-07 @ 9:44am PT
sounds less like a "security" feature and more like retaliation for not using their overpriced repair services.

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