iTunes Error 53: The (in)convenience of security

Recently there’s been a lot of beat-up in the press about Error 53, an error which may appear in iTunes when the iOS software on iPhones or iPads which feature Touch ID is updated.

The ACCC has initiated an investigation to determine whether this error, which is triggered by a security measure, contravenes consumer protection and competition laws.

So what exactly is iTunes Error 53, and how do you avoid your iPhone or iPad becoming “bricked”?


Starting with the iPhone 5s, Apple introduced Touch ID. Touch ID is a fingerprint sensor and secure fingerprint information, used to unlock your iPhone and make purchases, in place of your security code. It increases security because it’s uniquely biometric and also because many people who choose to not use a passcode can conveniently use their fingerprint instead.

The fingerprint information itself is kept in a separate, secure part of the iPhone, and is only accessibly to the sensor. Apple, any third parties, and even the iPhone’s processor cannot access the fingerprint information. The only information the iPhone’s processor knows is whether a fingerprint attempt was successful or not.

To maintain Touch ID security the sensor is paired to the rest of the phone, and this pairing must be maintained. If this weren’t the case then a hacker could simply replace the Touch ID sensor, and use a bogus sensor to fake successful fingerprint results; essentially giving thieves an easy way to steal from you.

iTunes Error 53 explained


iTunes showing Error 53 for an iPhone

iTunes Error 53 occurs when the iPhone no longer recognises the Touch ID sensor.

It’s typically the result of a screen replacement which includes a sensor replacement without re-pairing. A while back I wrote about how long an iPhone screen replacement takes – and this is part of the reason.

Third party repair places may replace the screen and sensor without re-pairing, and that’s where the problem occurs.

If you are experiencing Error 53, then follow Apple’s official support advice.

Check if you are affected

Touch ID is included in a number of Apple devices, so you could be affected. Devices include:

  • iPhone 5s
  • iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
  • iPhone 6s and 6s Plus
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad Pro
  • iPad Mini 3 and 4

If you’ve ever had a screen replaced on one of these devices, and it’s wasn’t via Apple, then back up your device, DO NOT run a software update, and head to your local Apple Store to have your device checked, as a preventative measure.

Once affected with Error 53 your iPhone or iPad will likely be “bricked” – lost for all time.

Always go to Apple for repairs

Our advice is to always go to Apple, or an authorised service agent, for your iPhone or iPad repairs. Not just for the great service which includes a warranty, but to protect your investment.

And one more thing… We’ve seen a lot of YouTube videos purporting to show how to fix Error 53. All of them involve extensive repairs on your iPhone, using parts you won’t have access to. As always our advice is to visit your local Apple Store.

*** Update 19 Feb 2016 ***

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Apple has released a software update to fix “bricked” iPhones. To apply the fix, do the following (see original SMH article here):

  1. If iTunes is open on your Mac or PC, quit iTunes.
  2. If your iOS device is plugged into your computer, unplug it.
  3. Make sure that you have the latest version of iTunes.
  4. Connect your iOS device to your computer with a USB cable.
  5. Open iTunes and select your device.
  6. When you see the option in iTunes to Restore or Update, click Restore.*
  7. When you see your iOS device’s Hello screen, follow the onscreen steps to set up your device.
    • If you previously backed up your device, you can set up from your backup.
    • When you see the screen for Touch ID, tap Set up Touch ID later.
  8. If Touch ID on your device didn’t work before you saw error 53, the feature still won’t work after you restore your device. Contact Apple Support to ask about service options for Touch ID.




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