Fury road: ‘Error 53’ is more a feature than a bug

Macalope

Some iPhones have experienced an error that can lock the phone so cry “Havoc!”, and let slip the dogs of war!

For “war” read: “Rush some hyperbolic claptrap to print and try to rake in some easy hits.”

The Guardian claims “‘Error 53’ fury mounts as Apple software update threatens to kill your iPhone 6’.” (Tip o’ the antlers to Phil Bayley Hughes.)

Thousands of iPhone 6 users claim they have been left holding almost worthless phones because Apple’s latest operating system permanently disables the handset if it detects that a repair has been carried out by a non-Apple technician.

Not exactly. Of course. Yes, shocking that anything involving an Apple device would get misconstrued or blown out of proportion. If you are brand new to the Internet.

What happens is Apple disables the phone if it detects that the TouchID sensor has been disconnected because that breaks the pairing between the sensor and the secure enclave that stores your fingerprint data. Apple handles a disconnect when they repair a device by re-pairing the two. Third parties, apparently, not so much.

Some users claim their devices have been bricked without third party repairs. If this is the case, Apple should obviously fix that. Also, the Macalope is sympathetic to the Guardian’s example of one of their freelancers who had to have his phone repaired by a third-party in Macedonia, where there are no Apple Stores. Still, Apple is not under obligation to have repair options globally. You’re kind of on your own if you complain “Apple has literally no presence in Antarctica and this penguin said he could fix it, so…”

And good luck going back to that penguin to get your money back. The Macalope doesn’t want to be racist but, seriously, they all look alike. Little flightless freaks.

Sorry. Not trying to be racist.

Hate them so much.

Sorry. Sorry.

(Please support the Macalope’s proposal to build a wall around Antartica.)

It’s a drag if you crack your screen on that ice flow, but how is Apple supposed to know the difference between a device that’s been repaired by a third party and a device that’s been tampered with? Maybe they could have a modal dialog box that asks “DID SOMEONE TAMPER WITH THIS PHONE OR WAS IT A THIRD PARTY REPAIR? [Tamper, please brick] [Repair, OK to unlock].

Reading some of the comments on the Guardian piece you’d think that’s what people want.

The Guardian’s piece is almost charmingly lacking in self-awareness.

“I am not even sure these third-party outfits even know this is a potential problem,” [the freelancer] says.

Uh, yeah, that’s kind of the issue right there. “We don’t know how this thing works but we fixed it.” Uhhh…

If you Google “iPhone 6” and “error 53” you will find no shortage of people reporting that they have been left with a phone that now only functions as a very expensive paperweight.

Please! Do not presume to know the Macalope’s appetite for people complaining about Apple’s products! He assures you they are quite insatiable.

Posting a message on an Apple Support Communities forum on 31 December, “Arjunthebuster” is typical. He/she says…

Any lawyer will tell you there’s evidence, there’s hearsay and then there’s “something some dude or lady or maybe it’s a dog or something said in a forum posting”.

Having laid this very serious groundwork, it’s now time to tar and feather Apple.

Could Apple’s move, which appears to be designed to squeeze out independent repairers…

Right, that’s totally what it is as opposed to security.

…contravene competition rules?

Shorter Guardian: We could not be more deliberately obtuse if we tried. We’ve run up against the constraints of geometry.

A spokeswoman for Apple told Money (get ready for a jargon overload)…

APPLE PROVIDED A REASONABLE EXPLANATION BUT WE DON’T UNDERSTAND IT. How dare they get in the way of a good rant? Very rude.

Writing for Macworld, Jared Newman provides the quote and has a much less blazzlefrozzle explanation of the issue. But, you know, maybe blazzlefrozzle is your thing. Maybe you can’t get through your day without a little blazzlefrozzle. Not judging. (Totally judging.)

The point is, you can’t just disconnect the TouchID sensor and expect the phone to work. Why? Because that’s a pretty good way for nefarious parties to gain access to your phone and all your unlocked Crossy Road characters.

(They can have that damn penguin, though.)

As Rich Mogull told the Macalope:

I consider this actually a pretty essential security feature. If you modify that trusted pathway, it should break. That’s consistent with hardware security best practices, like on encryption hardware.

Put it this way, this is the kind of feature that helps keep the NSA out of your phone.

So, turns out — surprise — this is how you want it to work. Instead of recognizing this, we must rage against the little machine.

Apple should do two things: Make the error message more understandable and make its policy about third-party repairs clearer up front. But for each horror story of a poor user who simply wanted a cheaper repair or a repair in a country where Apple doesn’t have stores, the Macalope can think of a counter-example involving a ski-mask clad hacker charging a Tesla with your phone and thumb print. Or the government discovering your penchant for BB-8 slashfic (now seriously judging you, what is even the matter with you that is not OK).

On an alternate Earth there’s a whole forum for such horror stories. And a Guardian piece bemoaning Apple’s shoddy security.

[Disclosure: The Macalope has done some writing and editing work for Rich Mogull.]

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