Skip to main content

How Error 53 Turns Your iPhone into a Brick

While you never want to see error messages on your smartphone, you really don't want to see Error 53 pop up on your iPhone screen. That particular error message signals your once vibrant phone has just become an inoperable brick.

The Error 53 problem gained wide attention after a report in The Guardian found iPhone owners suddenly unable to use their phone after running a software update. The problem affects iPhones with Touch ID, the fingerprint recognition feature built into the iPhone 5s and later. According to the Guardian report, users run into the Error 53 problem after taking their iPhone in for repairs, typically for a damaged screen. The phone will work fine until the user updates the phone's OS; that's when the Error 53 message appears, and the iPhone stops working.

MORE: Best Smartphones - Top-Rated Phones on the Market

Apple confirmed to the Guardian that the problem exists, blaming unauthorized repairs for the issue. When Apple — or an authorized repair center — fixes an iPhone screen, it revalidates the pairing between the Touch ID sensors and the secure enclave that stores all your fingerprint data. If your phone can't verify the pairing with the sensor, it will stop working.

While the Guardian article suggests this is some sort of plot to force you to only repair your phone with Apple or one of its approved reps, the pairing requirement is actually a fairly important security feature. A lot of personal data is tied into your fingerprint on iPhones with Touch ID features — not the least of which is credit card information used as part of the Apple Pay mobile payment service. Without that security measure in place, a thief could swap in a phony Touch ID sensor and access your data.

Still, that's of little comfort if you find yourself with an iPhone that needs repair and no authorized Apple repair provider nearby. It's an even greater concern if you've already had that unauthorized repair performed. Apple says that iPhone users receiving the Error 53 message should contact Apple support. We've asked Apple for additional comment and will update this article when we hear back.

It's unclear how widespread the problem is. The Guardian claims "thousands of iPhone 6 users" say they've been affected, though it doesn't cite a source for that number. A Wall Street Journal report on Error 53 says the repair site has 70 conversations on the topic, with one conversation garnering 173,000 views.

Are you among the users who've run into Error 53? Let us know in the comments.

Philip Michaels is a senior editor at Tom's Guide. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics and old movies. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.