Repairing Your iPhone Home Button From An Unofficial Repair Shop Can Brick Your Phone

Going to an unauthorized Apple technician to repair your home button can cost you a lot of money. On Friday, The Guardian reported that thousands of iPhone users encountered a mysterious “Error 53” error due to a new security feature to protect your Touch ID data. This error renders your iPhone useless as it bricks it.

If you break your home button and you need to replace it, you’ll want to go to an official Apple Store or an authorized repair shop to avoid the error 53. If a third-party repair shop replaces your home button and you’re running iOS 9, Apple automatically bricks your phone. Once your iPhone is bricked, there’s no way to unbrick it.

I know what you’re thinking: Apple is an evil company and wants to capture all the repairing revenue. Well, not really. There’s a reason why Apple wants you to pay between $269 and $329 to replace your home button, and it’s security.

When Apple introduced its Touch ID sensor for the iPhone 5s, the company needed to reassure its customers. Your fingerprints don’t get uploaded to Apple’s servers. They’re not even stored on your iPhone’s regular storage space. Similarly, you won’t find them in your iCloud or iTunes backup.

Instead, your fingerprints are stored on a secure enclave. The secure enclave is a coprocessor that utilizes a secure boot process to make sure that it’s uncompromized. It has a secret unique ID not accessible by the rest of the phone or Apple — it’s like a private key. The phone generates ephemeral keys (think public keys) to talk with the secure ecnlave. They only work with the unique ID to encrypt and decrypt the data on the coprocessor.

And finally, the Touch ID sensor is paired with the secure enclave for increased security — otherwise everything I just described would be useless. A hacker would be able to replace your home button with a faulty Touch ID sensor to access everything that is stored on the secure enclave, including your Apple Pay details.

With iOS 9, Apple checks that the Touch ID sensor and secure enclave are still intact. If iOS 9 can’t verify the Touch ID sensor, Apple blocks your iPhone with an error 53. That’s why unauthorized repair shops can’t fix the home button. Comparatively, Apple stores and authorized repair shops pair the new home button with the secure enclave so that you can keep using Touch ID after a home button replacement.

And this is where Apple has made some mistakes. The company treats security very seriously but should also take advantage of its own design. The secure enclave works independently from the main processor. If iOS 9 can’t verify the authenticity of the Touch ID sensor, the OS should brick the secure enclave, or disable all Touch ID-related features, such as Apple Pay.

The company shouldn’t prevent you from accessing your precious photos, contacts and apps. Today’s implementation of the error 53 is a bad one, and I hope that Apple is going to fix it in the next iOS release.

And even more important, Apple should have communicated about this “Error 53” when releasing iOS 9.0 — the current support page is not enough. Customers deserve to know what’s happening and why Apple is preventing them from accessing their phones. Otherwise, people will think that Apple is greedy and wants to kill third-party repair shops, which is not true.

According to The Guardian, the issue affects the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. It’s likely that people using an iPhone 5s, iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus are also affected as these devices also have a Touch ID sensor. iPad users could also face the same issue if their devices have a Touch ID sensor.

Apple sent TechCrunch the following statement:

We take customer security very seriously and Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customers. 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.