Apple comments on 'Error 53' failed security checks on iPhone

Touch ID sensors on multiple iPhones
Touch ID sensors on multiple iPhones (Image credit: iMore)

Apple has released an iOS update to address Error 53. Here's how to update your iPhone to fix Error 53.

There's been a ton of online speculation — and condemnation — today. When contacted for comment, Apple provided the following explanation to iMore:

"We take customer security very seriously and Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customers," an Apple spokesperson told iMore. "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."

Is this a new problem?

Some of this isn't new. Back when the iPhone 5s introduced Touch ID for the first time, former iMore editor Ally Kazmucha discovered there was hardware based security at the component level. That way, if someone took possession of your iPhone they couldn't bypass the encryption and get at your data. In other words, to protect us from both big and little brother.

What is new is the iOS 9 update causing "error 53" which, in defense of those who've received it, is completely opaque. As the old saying goes, security is at constant war with convenience, and it looks like some new check put in place as part of iOS 9 generates that error when it can't verify that hardware security is still intact.

Why is this only affecting third-party repairs?

It can actually affect any repair. If an error occurs following an Apple or Apple-certified repair, though, they can swap out the device for one that works, you can restore from backup, and everything is fine. With third-party repairs, not so much.

There are some complaints that about repairs not involving Touch ID that also cause the problem, though it's tough to rule out accidental damage. If true, though, it's possible Apple may need to fix the process so only the security system, and the security system alone, can trigger an error. And, of course, provide a more human-understandable error.

Why can't I override the security check? It's my phone!

Some have asked for an override that would let an owner opt-out of the security check. Unfortunately, once a "back door" exists, it exists for everyone. It's one of those things where security and usability clash, and why "fail safe" and "fail secure" are two very different things.

In other words, if you can override it, someone with bad intentions could override it as well.

Shouldn't Apple warn people about this?

In theory, absolutely. In practice, how and when Apple could provide such a warning is tougher to figure out. Putting in on-screen as part of the on-boarding process is unwieldy and doesn't scale. Putting it in fine print on the paper inside would likely be as good as no warning at all.

So what should I do?

If you live near an Apple Store or an Apple-certified store, go there. If you don't, and you can mail your device to Apple, consider that option. If you have the error 53 problem, contact Apple support.

If you've been affected by "error 53" let us know in the comments!

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

90 Comments
  • So, if I'm understanding this correctly, any repair done by a third party could trigger this. Is that correct? It seems like this is going to really hurt the independent repair shops out there. If I were the paranoid type, I could say that it could be designed to hurt independent repair shops and conceivably put them out of business. And, given that not every town has an Apple store, these places perform a valuable service. If my phone's screen breaks, why should I be forced to either make a long trip to another city or mail the device off to Apple for repair when there's a local place right down the street that can have me taken care of in an hour?
  • Exactly! The closest Apple Store to me is 80 miles away. There's only 2 Apple Stores in the state of Alabama. Yet Istanbul gets 2 stores. SMH!
  • You're from Alabama too? I'm in Tuscaloosa, and the closest store is in Birmingham. UA has a campus store, and they can do some repairs, but I don't know if they fix iPhones. They certainly don't sell them. However, there are several local repair shops here.
  • There's more people in Istanbul.
  • If it is a certified store i think it's ok. I feel you because i live in a country with no apple store abd need a visa to go there so it is highly inconvenient when you buy your iPhone abroad. Though i am glad it's safe and that people don't just have to replace the sensor to get access to my phone Sent from the iMore App
  • Well I personally wouldn't got to a third party to repair my iPhone especially if Touch ID is tampered with, I only trust Apple with repairs as they are the ones who made Touch ID and price don't matter to me as I know Apple will put their seal of quality on it even on repairs, now that Apple has commented now hopefully all of this nonsense is put to bed now. Sent from the iMore App
  • Our local third party repair shop wanted £125 to repair the screen on my daughters iPhone 6. We got it replaced for £80 at the Apple Store which is about 25 miles away. If this is what third party stores offer I won't miss them. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Some third party repair shops will do it cheaper than Apple though. It should be freedom of choice really.
  • I'll never trust any third party over Apple when it comes to repairing my iPhone or iPad. Sent from the iMore App
  • I got the impression that if you replaced the Touch ID, it would not work, because it only will work with that phone's chip, and no other. You can not replace the chip. The only thing you have is a home button, that is it. Sent from the iMore App
  • Not really, I am an Itech (Icracked affiliate ) and besides us using the best certified quality parts, we transfer key components like the home button to the new display. This will prevent for error 53 to happen. If we do damage the phone or your fingerprint sensor, we will replace your phone! Sent from the iMore App
  • Lets do an experiment:
    Imagine an alternative universe where this "error" did not show up. And in that universe, someone popular got their iPhone stolen, and someone tampered that iPhone's hardware, hacked into it and leaked nude pictures of the owner/owner's wife on the internet. And because Apple and google are so popular in that universe as well, a lot of people googled this stuff and checked out the nude pics. Now, in that universe, what would ALCingularUser have commented? would ALCingularUser have said he/she would have gladly travelled 100 miles in case of a rare mishap, rather than every single iPhone user risking loosing personal information on a daily basis? or would he/she have commented something else? could you please participate in this experiment?
  • "Unfortunately, once a "back door" exists, it exists for everyone."
    That's a bit sweeping? they don't make you use the fingerprint, or have a lockpin or use apple pay. bricking the phone seems overkill. they just disable apple pay if you choose not to use security otherwise.
  • That comment was specific to the idea of a security override, not of bricking phones. iPhone 5s would just have Touch ID cease working if it was stopped. The addition of iOS 9 updates causing a brick feels like a bug.
  • Nah, nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.
  • Affirmative Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Exactly. If the TouchID sensor may have been compromised, but the owner still remembers the unlock code, the device should still work. Bricking the phone over this is insane.
  • It's greed and intent is to push out third party repair. Where are they going to fit a radio to transmit your fingerprints? It's ridiculous. No different then Keurig trying to force their licensed kcups on people. If i want cancer from bpa imitation kcups that's my choice. If I want to risk my thumbprint security from being used. My choice.
    It's greed, all that it is.
  • Your choice may be but i am sure you would sue apple if it happens and your data get stolen because of that ! :) Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm an adult. I'm responsible for my decisions.
  • So are we all. If you take a phone to a stall in the mall and it gets bricked, then own it.
  • Yep and if you have your muffler changed at a local garage instead of Chevrolet your car should never start again.
  • Burn Sent from the iMore App
  • +1 Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • So if having your muffler changed at a local garage led to a fatal crash, would you rather the car not start?
  • If your iPhone was repaired at a third party store and your phone's security wasn't tampered with couldn't you leave the tinfoil hat at home? ~TheRealFixxxer
  • Yes I would and using your thought process if my car started world War three because I got a muffler through third party I also wouldn't want it to start. @arbourable
  • Or ink cartridges that expire and stop working whether they are empty or full.
  • If the risk is available to you then it's available to me and everyone, and thus weaken the technology for me everyone. Apple does not want to have it out there that TouchID can be weakened.
  • Disabling touch id if tampering of the hardware is detected seems a reasonable precaution but bricking the whole phone just seems spiteful. I think Apple have become so big they do not give two figs about their customers, it is all about keeping the dosh rolling in. The nonsense in all of this is that the check only happens with upgrades not very comforting a bit like the police saying we are only working between 12 and 3 so make sure you commit your crimes then.
  • "Putting it in find print on the paper inside" Good spoonerism.
  • I for one am glad once again to have switched to Apple products. Safety first is their main priority and I'm grateful. Thanks so much, Apple! Sent from the iMore App
  • Lmao
  • 'LMAO' go and troll on an Android forum. Sent from the iMore App
  • Why should he do that? Sent from the iMore App
  • Must not be much of an 'A'
  • Bruh... Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • XD your wallet is their first concern Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • So this week my sister gave my her iPhone saying she was having trouble updating and asked me to take a look at it. Over the air update gave a generic "An unknown error occurred" so I attempted to update the phone using iTunes and hit error 53. Having to explain that she had given me a working, but out of date iPhone and I was giving her back a completely bricked device was a tough thing to explain and very frustrating for both of us. As far as she's concerned, 6 months ago the screen and touch ID broke following a drop and she had it replaced at a local store because it was convenient and she had no reason to think that she shouldn't do that - it had been working fine and an update has now totally bricked the phone. We have an appointment at the genius bar next week so it will be interesting to see how that plays out, but if the final word is that there's nothing that can be done, I think that will leave a very very sour taste and I imagine she would switch to another phone manufacturer and never go back to an iPhone. And it's tough to disagree with that course of action.
  • If the "local store" did an incomplete job of replacing the screen/sensor then why is this Apple's fault? Shouldn't she take it up with the store? Sent from the iMore App
  • Well the main reason is that we only know that's the cause of the problem because it's suddenly started being reported on news sites. The error gives no indication that the cause was having previously had the screen replaced nor, interestingly, have Apple said so or even asked us when we've contacted them. If this (and other similar) articles hadn't been published in the last couple of days, we would have no idea why the phone had suddenly been bricked. Secondly, I doubt the store which did the screen replacement knew either that this would happen. If I were running the store doing the replacements I'd say "Well, we replaced your screen, which is what you asked for, and it's been working fine for the 6 months since we did that. If Apple have decided to brick your device because we did that, you need to take it up with them."
  • No its Apple's responsibility to deal with third party manufacturers who replicate their intellectual property. Not the consumers problem.
  • Ha, nonsense. I think you'll find that the contract is between the owner of the phone and the repairer. Apple are not involved in the transaction at all. If the repairer was ignorant of the issues involved, or went ahead regardless, then either the owner or the repairer should be responsible for the cost of a refurbished phone. I'm sure all this will be tested in court… class action lawsuit in 3, 2, 1.
  • At the time there were no issues for the repairer to be ignorant of. iOS 9 created the issue.
  • Nah, Apple fans are just like Hillary fans. They will support their leader no matter what!
  • Followup: Apple gave us an out of warranty replacement free of charge.
  • That's the stinging part. If this was truly about security Apple would have had the lockout in ip5 when touch Id came in. The fact that they are doing it now proves this is a cash grab from their loyal fans.
  • Did you guys read, it is done in case I wanted to access your phone with a bogus fingerprint sensor. That is why each sensor is unique to its motherboard. I appreciate this. Sent from the iMore App
  • So why would the entire phone require bricking? When you boot the phone TouchID is initially disabled anyway.
    From another forum post;
    Communication between the
    processor and the Touch ID sensor takes place over a serial peripheral interface
    bus. The processor forwards the data to the Secure Enclave but cannot read it. It’s
    encrypted and authenticated with a session key that is negotiated using the device’s
    shared key that is provisioned for the Touch ID sensor and the Secure Enclave. This is from Apple's document. TouchID can only forward information to Secure Enclave bit cannot access it. And SE can validate TouchID, so if the authentication failed, then iOS fall back to password. As other people said, there is no reason for Apple to brick the phone entirely.
  • This is a real issue; I had a replacement iPhone 6 from Apple. Within a week, the TouchID stopped working; AppleCare recommended restoring from iTunes; phone bricked with error 53. My wife had hardly used the phone. Never been repaired. Direct product from Apple. I took it to the Apple Store, was accused of lying - "I'm sorry Sir, you have made an unauthorized repair". 3 hours later, the manager eventually realised I was telling the truth and replaced. AppleCare even gave me a couple of docks as compensation. This is a BUG.
  • You're touching it wrong.
  • I think when it comes to security Apple is setup there and they definitely care about us as customers. Sent from the iMore App
  • All Apple care about is Money dude.....
  • +1 Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Actually BlackBerry is the OEM whose biggest concern is safety...but apparently most of the market doesn't care about that Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Cared so much they gave governments back door access* to customers. *in some cases warrantless.
  • Heh, if you trust your £500 phone to a third party and they botch the repair, that's on you. Why don't you take the bricked phone to where it was repaired, maybe they'll give you a new phone, not
  • As an aside, I wonder how many of these bricked iPhones turn out to be stolen property, where the thief has bypassed the fingerprint sensor (with or without the help of third party repairers) and then sold it in the second-hand market. Caveat emptor.
  • Probably not many. But good try.
  • There is a support page setup here: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT205628 The advice is hilarious( spoiler alert ): If you see error 53 or can‘t update or restore your iPhone or iPad Follow these steps to get help updating or restoring your iPhone or iPad. 1. Make sure that you have the latest version of iTunes
    2 ...
  • I posted this as a question in the forums, but re-posting here to get an opinion from the readers of this post as well: So, as the web is heating up with news of Error 53 on iPhone, I find myself in a little bit of a turmoil. Let me explain: Last night I found myself guiding my sister-in-law towards purchasing her next phone, which we concluded to be the iPhone 6S Plus. I myself currently own a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge phone and decided on a switch to the iPhone 6S Plus as well. We're supposed to head out to the market in the next few hours to grab these phones, but the news of E53 has brought hesitation in the decision. I intend to buy the iPhone 6S Plus 64 GB from an authorized dealer of Apple here in Karachi, that provides official warranty etc. etc. So I'm not much worried about this and don't intend to be using 3rd party repair-shops for any repairs that might be needed, if any, ever. However, my sister-in-law is looking to get an iPhone 6S Plus 16 or 64 GB but in used from the open market here in Karachi. Though the price difference is not too much, but it is enough to make a difference. It's approx. $200 cheaper if you go the market and look for used iPhones from resellers (non-authorized), which puts this under her budget. I've purchased used phones in the past for myself as well as with others, and I'm very careful to make sure nothing suspicious stands out about the phone, like it should come with its box and accessories, no suspicious marks or dents on the phone, etc. And most importantly, I look up the IMEI on various sites to make sure it is not reported stolen. (For example, I needed to buy a phone for my wife and saw a HTC One M9 in perfect condition, but upon research, found it's IMEI blocked in Australia by Telstra indicating it to be stolen... so didn't buy it. {Me moving to the iPhone will allow her to get her hands on the S6 Edge which she loves}). But with the E53 error... How can we make sure that the phone is not repaired or wouldn't suffer with this issue? Is it just a matter of checking that the phone is on the latest iteration of iOS and check for updates against Apple's servers? Is there an Apple site that provides history for iPhones? And how can we verify, if possible, that a phone isn't repaired or it's TouchID isn't tampered with? Most importantly, what is the outcome for E53... Does it really brick your iPhone making it a useless chunk of metal and glass? Or does it only disable Touch ID and related features?
  • Bricks the phone completely. Apple gains a side benefit here as well in that used sales will be impacted. If you cannot physically verify that the unit you are buying isn't already on ios9 and isn't affected, there is a good chance you would get scammed.
    Great way to increase sales. Apple has thought of everything.
  • However, you can get it fixed at an Apple Store, though there may be a price. I'm laughing to myself, you know, that it was a Guardian correspondent who brought this to light. Guardian is the friend of Security above all, the paper that published all the Snowden information, and so on. Well, here's one of the side-effects of all that engineering for security, and they're really angry! There should be a back door so that... Wait. A back door?
  • Still kinda mixed on this. On one hand, I know this is for security as the security of an iOS device can be compromised by a bogus TouchID sensor in some cases. On the other hand, completely bricking the phone is somewhat harsh IMHO. Maybe a little warning before an update or only disabling the TouchID functionality would have made more sense, to me anyway. The real issue for me is what their customers and others think of this. Many feel that Apple is doing this to crack-down on third-party repair shops and feel that Apple is trying to monopolize the repair of their devices. Now, I am not saying that's the case, but the bottom line I'm trying to make is that from the statements above, it looks like Apple may have left a real bad taste in the mouths of affected users. As for me, the sensor on my iPad Pro is fine, but if it fails, you'd better believe me when I say it's going to the Genius Bar.
  • All luxury brands strongly suggest that repairs be made with only oem parts. Auto makers BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and even domestic brands suggest it. They train their techs to perform repairs in proper order. Doing otherwise can damage the cust