A MacBook Security Chip Is Giving the Secondhand Computer Market Hell


Digital recyclers have a hard time breaking into pre-owned Macbooks that have sold for as much as $3,000 ($4,165). The problem? The laptops don’t let anyone but the owner wipe their data, so now these perfectly good computers are being sold for scrap.

Vice says the problem lies in the Macbook’s T2 security chip, which was unveiled in 2018, and the chip’s security features include encrypting stored data and TouchID biometrics. The problem is that refurbishrs cannot factory reset a laptop with the T2 chip for a new user unless the original refurbishment has allowed the refurbishment to log in, due to the chip’s activation lock. Instead, these laptops, which can be worth thousands of dollars, are sold for scrap parts.

“As I predicted years ago, Activation Locked T2 MacBooks are flowing to recyclers (15 of these are 2020 M1!) Recyclers willing to breach the R2 certificate sell to uncertified barbarians like me who use them for parts, but the most just scrap because of liability paranoia,” tweeted John Bumsteada makeover.

The T2 chip was designed to help prevent theft because it can’t be easily bypassed to restore factory settings, but now the second-hand market has been caught in the crossfire. Vice reports that the original owners of these computers are usually schools or companies that have a bulk contract with Apple for technology. Refurbishers would have to obtain the credentials for each laptop to return it to factory settings for resale, but Bumstead said previous owners rarely respond.

“Previous owners don’t call back, and large companies who dump 3,000 machines assume they’ve been destroyed, so it’s critical that we have a solution that doesn’t rely on the previous owner’s approval,” Bumstead told Vice.

According to Apple, the T2 chip is in several MacBook models and some iMacs. In an ideal world, users would reset their computers to factory settings before sending them for a facelift, but instead Bumstead and his colleagues are forced to accept reduced profits.

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