How iOS security is making it more difficult to repair the latest iPhones
Dealing with a broken smartphone can be an abject nightmare, not to mention a pretty expensive proposition, so it’s little surprise that users often turn to their most accessible, most affordable options for repair – even if that may not mean dealing with an authorized service agent. After all, your phone’s already broken, so what’s the harm, right? Well, for a growing number of iPhone users that harm is only becoming apparent after the fact, as they get locked out of their phones when attempting to install their latest system updates.
The culprit is the Touch ID sensor embedded in the iPhone home button since the iPhone 5s, and the way the phone interacts with that hardware. In order to secure the chain of trust between your finger and the phone’s software, the iPhone’s able to validate the Touch ID scanner and pair it with the rest of the phone’s hardware. When Apple replaces a broken home button, it pairs the new sensor, but a third-party service company wouldn’t be able to do the same.
Problem is, that pairing error doesn’t become an issue straight away, and the iPhone may appear to work just fine for a while. But now when users go to install a new system update, the iPhone finally checks to see if it still has the right Touch ID scanner installed – and if the hardware doesn’t match what the phone’s expecting, it locks the handset up with an “error 53” message.
Apple’s logic for throwing up the error makes enough sense: the pairing check helps detect against man-in-the-middle attacks, where a dedicated hardware hacker could attempt to intercept or fake Touch ID fingerprint authentication. But is that extreme level of protection worth shutting out independent iPhone repair businesses? Apple doesn’t seem to have a problem with that consequence, and so far there’s no sign that it intends to put an end to Touch ID hardware pairing – or open up the re-pairing to outsiders.