Friday, August 19, 2022

Samsung’s Repair Mode

Ron Amadeo (Hacker News):

Handling data during a mail-in repair process is tough. You could wipe your phone, but that’s a big hassle. You don’t want to just send in a completely locked down device, as technicians can’t thoroughly test it if they’re locked out of everything. While in repair mode, technicians can still poke around in your device and test everything, but they’ll only see the default apps with blank data. When you get your device back, you can re-authenticate and disable repair mode and you’ll get all your data back.

This may provide a false sense of security because it’s probably not as private as actually wiping the phone. On the other hand, we’ve seen that most people can’t or simply don’t do that, so it seems like a useful idea that Apple should copy.


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The real issue with "wipe & restore" for iPhones, is if you have a device on which you don't want a newer OS version installed - you really can't be sure iTunes is going to put back the same OS version you currently have on the device. Your apps aren't backed up either, so you might end up with newer, worse versions of the apps you like.

If Apple claim your device is secure at all (and reading between the lines, most of their security measures on the device are about preventing cops from accessing your phone), then it should be able to be equally secure from their technicians.

All the times when I've sent devices in for repair I've been unable too do anything with them, so this repair mode wouldn't have been much use.

"it’s probably not as private as actually wiping the phone"

I guess that depends on how this works, and what wiping the phone actually does. If this uses good encryption, and if wiping the phone doesn't actually clear the data, this could theoretically be better than wiping the phone.

"Samsung doesn't explain how the feature works"


Didn’t Apple solve this a while back with Diagnostic Mode? Customer data remains encrypted and protected just as if the phone were normally powered off, without any extra effort on their part, and repair technicians can test and validate the hardware itself.

> you really can't be sure iTunes is going to put back the same OS version you currently have on the device. Your apps aren't backed up either, so you might end up with newer, worse versions of the apps you like.

It is unfortunate that iOS is philosophically opposed to users having this degree of control. I have come to accept that software on the platform is ephemeral. If it’s pulled, abandoned, or goes in a direction I don’t like, it’s time to find a new app.

Even if you manage to back up the .ipa, eventually there will be some breaking API change in iOS. And running anything but the latest iOS is untenable… security vulnerabilities are published, newer devices are incompatible, and you need to worry about Apple no longer signing the release.

It sucks, but for me it’s not worth the effort to fight it. Maybe one day Apple will relent, but I’m not holding my breath. Until then, there are always other platforms to fill the gaps.

@Someone Else I think Diagnostic Mode is just a way to run the hardware test tool. It’s not a sandboxed environment.

Totally, yeah. But if the technician’s goal is to validate their hardware repairs are working correctly, it seems better to do that with a dedicated diagnostic environment than using the default system apps.


When you restore from backup, even though your apps have to download separately, they are restored to the versions that were installed at the time of the backup. Assuming you have automatic update turned off, you can then upgrade them or not, as you like. That applies both to restoring from cloud backup and from itunes backup. Apple keeps all the old versions of apps on their servers, and you get whatever one you had installed at the time of backup.

IOS will try to update when you restore no matter what. I accidentally discovered that it is possible to cancel the update and keep the IOS version you had on there already, but it's definitely not obvious how to do so.

@Glaurung Yeah, I've done the "last compatible version" thing for individual app updates, but didn't know the restore would come back to an non-current version. That's interesting.

Any chance you could share the restore-to-current-version iOS trick?

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