back to article Under-fire Apple backs down, crafts new iOS to kill security safeguard

Apple has issued a new build of iOS that restores iPhones bricked after having third-party repairs. The Cupertino goliath said a new version of iOS 9.2.1, available over iTunes, will restore mobiles frozen with an 'Error 53' message. Earlier this month, people became super upset that iPhones could be rendered inoperable while …

  1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    So you can now change the security module (presumably to one whose secrets you know) with impunity ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Remains to be seen

      The article doesn't say whether that's the case - it might still disable the functionality of Touch ID if you use a third party component, in order to protect its security.

      If they do that I know some will claim "there's Apple still trying to make more money" but honestly does anyone think that selling Touch ID replacement parts is a big profit center for Apple when they are making about a billion dollars a week in profit? Even back when they had the "error 53" if they provided no help they wouldn't make money on a new iPhone - you can take your broken iPhone to Apple and they'll replace it for $200 or basically at cost. They don't make money making you buy a new iPhone, unless you don't check with them first and pay full whack (and that strategy would obviously cost them some because some customers might be fed up and buy an Android instead)

      Given the whole business with the FBI yesterday, if it turned out a rogue Touch ID sensor was able to compromise the iPhone's security one could understand why they'd take this step. I'm not sure exactly how that might work, but clearly Apple was worried about the possibility - though maybe they can work around it by strengthening the way the secure enclave works to be more defensive against the possibility of a rogue Touch ID sensor.

      1. BebopWeBop

        Re: Remains to be seen

        Well one thing, it probably was not a fingerprint sensor being used as a backdoor (although never say never). The iPhone 5c does not use one.

      2. Dave Howe

        Re: Remains to be seen

        Would make more sense to just refuse to honor the new sensor - pop an error dialogue each time someone tries, saying it isn't a valid apple touch sensor, and require the pin to be entered instead.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So you can now change the security module (presumably to one whose secrets you know) with impunity ?

      I suspect the next Global Whining will be over the fact that this patch may unbrick the phone, but certain functions may no longer work as they were dependent of all component IDs being correct.

      In other words, the phone may work, but it may no longer encrypt its contents because you basically broke parts of the mechanism. If you want that back, I suspect you'll still need an authorised repair.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It unbricks the phone, but won't support Touch ID or Apple Pay if it detects a non-Apple Touch ID sensor.

        Those who want to start the global whining about how Apple are only doing this because of the wads of cash they make selling replacement Touch ID sensors are welcome to do so :)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "wads of cash they make selling replacement Touch ID sensors "

          First of all, the apologists are focusing on the Touch ID sensor, when it also affects replacement screens.

          "Well, sir. I see your 5S screen is smashed and you don't have AppleCare. I could replace the screen for you for $129 USD, but I'd recommend you trade the phone in on a new iPhone 6S for just a little more. We even have this wonderful new payment plan now."

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        In other words, the phone may work, but it may no longer encrypt its contents because you basically broke parts of the mechanism. If you want that back, I suspect you'll still need an authorised repair.

        Why? There is no need to use the Touch ID if you choose not to, the encryption can still be managed using the PIN code that iOS still has available whether you use the convenience of TouchID or not.

  2. Jarrad

    "Apple is being asked by the public to contradict itself"

    Agreed. The government's excuse is increased security, while the public's is the almighty dollar. Who could've guessed.

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: "Apple is being asked by the public to contradict itself"

      Thereby knuckling under quietly, while proclaiming intransigent victory.

    2. MacroRodent

      Re: "Apple is being asked by the public to contradict itself"

      No. This case is about allowing the owner to use his own iPhone after it has been repaired by a shop of his choosing. The governement wants a backdoor for the police to access it. No contradiction at all. Of course the side effect of the touchscreen fix is slightly reduced security, but maybe that just means this particular security feature was not thought through.

      Also, isn't all data in the iPhone toast after the OS has been reset this way? So this is not like Apple is adding backdoors.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: "Apple is being asked by the public to contradict itself"

        I don't see how this is contradicting, they just implemented it badly in the first place and now are tidying up.

        If somebody attempts to circumvent security by changing to a non authorised TouchID then TouchID should be disabled on next power on along with Apple Pay, this will close that attack method. At the very worst, the phone should write 0x55s right through its non volative user memory and restart from factory reset. No need to brick the phone because people won't attempt the method knowing that it won't work.

        So now, screens can be replaced for legitimate owners - people who know their PIN code and their iTunes account password - because these iPhone will still be in use for second owners 3 or more years from new these are the ones that use the unauthorised repair services, or like me do their own repairs for pennies.

        There is no help for the FBI in this change at all, they would still need help from Apple even if it was a phone with a TouchID instead of a 5C so no contradiction.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Apple is being asked by the public to contradict itself"

        Apple was protecting the phone by having an unauthorized repair shop to plant a backdoor on the phone. Anyway you should undertand what a "backdoor" is. Hacking a device directly is not a "backdoor".

  3. Vince

    Incidentally, this can't be "integral" because the issue didn't exist until the last minor point release of iOS. If it was perfectly happy until then, I doubt it is integral.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No contradiction. The device isn't the tool being weilded, it's the people. We should not slave to the device, the device should slave to our voice. You can compliment and criticize the same object, your opinion, or voice, is at the heart of all your progress.

  5. petur

    "The sensors are a crucial component in Apple's iOS security model [PDF, Touch ID, page 7], hence why iOS freaks out if they are changed."

    Which is why it shuts down the device during a firmware update, and not when powered on with the newly replaced sensor, right? Right? Yup, thought so.

    Stop repeating these lies, El Reg....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      One option

      would be to disable the fingerprint sensor if it's not approved. No need to brick the whole thing, unless it is THAT crucial to the device's authentication process, but then that would be a design flaw.

      @ petur The only logical explanation is that the previous version of iOS didn't check for the hardware approval stamp.

      1. redpawn

        Re: One option

        Better would be to immediately warn the owner giving them the choice to continue to use their phone's replacement parts knowing that there is a possibility that the new part is malicious while locking the functions of the phone down until the owner is authenticated. On each update the install could re-warn the owner of the potential security issue. Just bricking a valuable phone is not a service.

        Becoming part of the government security apparatus should not be part of the services offered to any government by Apple. Again apple could give a choice to the user:

        A) Allow my government and others to spy on me by making my device insecure, for I am a patriot.

        B) Make my device secure whether or not there is anything of interest within, for I am a patriot.

      2. JLV
        Thumb Up

        >previous version of iOS didn't check for the hardware approval stamp.

        Upvoted. Finally someone able to use his brains.

        We've had so many "it's not security if it only freaks out on the iOS upgrade" bleaters.

        Would you all have somehow wanted that security check to go back in time to before it was installed and magically freak out at first reboot?

        Glad Apple backed down. This whole thing was about as stupid as they come and would have just opened the door for more Apple-only service and hardware abuse if customers had put up with it. No thanks for my fellow Apple customers apologists who were happily willing to let themselves be fleeced (but they did get a fair bit of justified abuse when doing so).

        Reality is, anytime you bring any device in for repair, you are at some risk of dodgy behavior. For example, you will often get asked for your login password. Which is logical enough if work is being done on device software, not just hardware and the repair guy needs to check things work. But still leaves you open to abuse. Locking the door like Apple was trying to do was never going to be very helpful in terms of security.

        My take on it is: keep your actual secure info encrypted separately from device operation and access. For example, use a mount-on-demand TrueCrypt partition, not encryption that is tied to computer operation. Disconnect from secure apps (and that includes email) before handing in a phone for repair. If you're truly paranoid, reinstall the OS if you know how to.

        Worrying about an insecure fingerprint sensor when the device is going to be back in your physical possession (and away from DodgyRepairGuy) afterwards would be much lower than my distaste for Apple $$$ grabs.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: >previous version of iOS didn't check for the hardware approval stamp.

          Would you all have somehow wanted that security check to go back in time to before it was installed and magically freak out at first reboot?


          For a true security feature introduced in 8 or 9 all that would be needed is for the OS to check the authenticity of the connected parts at power on, then the check would happen immediately following a repair where the phone was disassembled. Not at the next iOS update.

      3. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: One option

        The only logical explanation is that the previous version of iOS didn't check for the hardware approval stamp

        You mean Apple didn't know about this until the FBI asked them to make changes....

      4. LDS Silver badge

        Re: One option

        No, because if you allow the device to boot you can then try to circumvent the sensor block and make it accept input. The only safe way is to brick the phone until unlocked by an authorized support center and removal of dangerous devices.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    i call CLICKBAIT

    its only thursday!

    1. Adam 1

      Re: i call CLICKBAIT

      Oh come on. That was a by-line of the week.

      /slow golf clap

    2. Jimbo in Thailand

      Re: i call CLICKBAIT

      You beat me to it AC! With a title of "Under-fire Apple backs down, crafts new iOS to kill security safeguard" and considering the timing of the article, just after the 'Apple vs FBI tug of war newsflash, it clearly is clickbait. Shame on you Shaun Nichols and shame on you El Reg for allowing this low-road tactic!

  7. Old Handle

    While drawing parallels is unavoidable especially given the timing, there really are significant differences. The Error 53 thing was a mess from the beginning, and obviously useless as a security measure, since as it's been repeatedly pointed out it only took effect when you tried to upgrade, not after the actual "tampering". And to make it worse, according to the accounts I've heard, even Apple stores said they couldn't make the phone work again, but they could transfer the data off. That's the opposite of what you want for data security. All it accomplished was to make Apple look evil(er). I seriously doubt that was what they originally set out to accomplish. Syed's phone, on the other hand, is showing the intended and normally desirable behavior.

    Even more importantly, responding to customer concerns is what businesses are supposed to do, and no one has a problem with that. But the FBI being able to compel them to write software the don't believe should be written is another matter, and Apples seems to object to that more than anything else.

  8. quattroprorocked

    Better background in Wired

    basically error 53 was the phone panicking when it really just needed to lose touch and relax

    and that's what now happens.

  9. Bluto Nash
    Big Brother


    I wonder if this new firmware ALSO allows somehow removing the self destruct after n tries and delay between PIN entries?

    Wouldn't THAT be handy?

    1. dmdev

      Re: Hmmm...

      Indeed. Or possibly allow the FBI to install a hacked fingerprint reader that will unlock the device?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hmmm...

        I'm willing to bet it just disables Touch ID, unless they found another way to defend against a rogue Touch ID sensor.

        It wouldn't affect the current case with the FBI, since that concerns an iPhone 5c - which does not have Touch ID.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hmmm...

          Just saw elsewhere that it does in fact disable Touch ID (and therefore Apple Pay as well) while letting the phone otherwise work properly.

  10. N2

    Much as I like Apple products

    The company seems to act like a pack of complete bastards.

  11. Aslan

    "If you'll allow your humble hack to think aloud, Apple is being asked by the public to contradict itself." Looks like darn near 100% of the commenters who know about the issue disagree with you here Shaun Nichols if replacing the fingerprint sensor was such a security disaster then why did it brick the phone after an update and not after replacement of the module?

  12. cream wobbly


    "users crying foul and accusing Apple of strong-arming users into paying for its in-house repair services rather than third-party shops"

    If the third-party shops replaced the ribbon cable when they replaced the fingerprint reader, they wouldn't be delivering bricks.

    If I replace the cylinder head on my car without replacing the head gasket, it's going to blow. Same same.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tomorrows Headline...

    The Lexmark, (famous for its printers being cheaper than the ink) director Apple signed has just been fired.

    I made that up

    1. John Tserkezis

      Re: Tomorrows Headline...

      "I made that up"

      Don't shoot yourself in the foot just yet - perhaps you're just predicting the future - you never know.

  14. wolfetone Silver badge

    I came here looking for an argument with El Reg. HOW DARE APPLE BACK DOWN FROM THE FBI.

    Then I read the article, understand what it's about. Now all I can shout is GOOD! BLOODY APPLE THINKING THEY CAN SCREW THE CONSUMER OVER! WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE?!

    All is well with the world, until tomorrow at least.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I was thinking about this error 53 crap while reading the FBI terrorism crap earlier today, and I couldn't help but think there is some type of double standard, or oxymoron. Treating honest people like crooks for not paying the high price for repairs, while protecting terrorist, I don't know...

  16. Craig 2

    I don't understand this story. It appears that your writer is actually defending Apple in a fair and balanced manner? What am I missing? Is this some sarcasm too subtle for even me to detect, or has one of your writers been turned to the dark side?

  17. Andrew Jones 2

    Actually all the users were asking was to restore the previous functionality. Previous versions of iOS didn't complain about 3rd Party repairs, and that is why users were upset - because Apple devices that had been repaired by 3rd parties and had been functioning perfectly fine for months, perhaps years - suddenly were no longer able to be used without a visit to Apple. This is in a way very similar to the FTDI fiasco which also has caused a stir.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Because previous versions of iOS didn't have Apple Pay.

      Apple just did it badly, users could have understood a wiped phone and a disabled touch id sensor, but to completely brick it makes little sense.

      It's just a poor decision that has been changed and tidied up. Nothing to see really.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        From a security perspective, it does makes sense. The device has been tampered with. It has to disable itself, to hinder more damages.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You're repairing it wrong

    Give US the dosh instead!

  19. Anonymous Coward

    A fanboi writes....

    I wuv you Mr APPL

  20. Daniel Bower

    Surely this is just the same as 3rd party car repairs

    Didn't we have this while thing when motor manufacturers were trying to void warranties for repairs carried out at independent garages?

    That was ruled illegal and so should this if Apple hadn't backed down.

    No difference at all as far as I can see.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Surely this is just the same as 3rd party car repairs

      No difference apart from with the phone there is a financial payment system involved.

      So, do we have the right to tamper with the embedded chip on our chip and pin payment cards and still get to use them? Notwithstanding the fact that the cards don't belong to their users, if we are going to extend their functionality to phones then there is going to be a fraud threat and some control will have to be relinquished to counter it. Because the first time a clever criminal finds a way past the security, the publicity will severely damage the tech.

      Again, Apple went too heavy handed with the security and they've fixed it now, but the reasoning was clear enough.

  21. TechGeezer

    spot the difference...

    One is a request by its customers to take control of their own phones.

    The other us a request by a heavy handed lazy, almost Gestapo-like government organisation to control of everyone else's phones....

    ...see what I did there?...

  22. Tom 7 Silver badge

    So now if you want a secure phone

    you will have to buy one where the security is totally in the hardware and can never be overridden in the software.

    Make sure you keep backups on similarly secure devices and dont forget whatever it was you need to get in.

  23. Scaffa

    This was buzzfeed level clickbait.

  24. Matthew 17

    The update makes the phone work, but disables the touch ID

    It's a sensible compromise. If you're cheap and get a backstreet techie to swap your home button then your phone will still work but you've lost the touch ID feature. If you want that back take it to an approved store. It's not Apple turning back on their security model.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I stopped reading at "super upset".


  26. PassiveSmoking


    I don't think it's a contradiction. The owner of the device should have the right to do what they like with it, the government shouldn't.

    Having said that, fitting a cheapo unapproved fingerprint sensor is a really silly idea. The same kind of silly idea as buying a cheapo knockoff Chinese firecracker disguised as a phone charger off eBay. The official parts are more expensive for a reason, and no, that reason isn't (entirely) about gouging loyal customers.

    If you can afford an iPhone, you can afford insurance to get it fixed properly if you break it.

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