HTC Flaw Exposes Android User Data

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Researchers have discovered that HTC’s Android smartphones contain a serious data leak

Due to a flaw in the way HTC devices log application data, any application that requests permission to get Internet access can read various phone data such as call and Short Message Service logs and a list of all user accounts saved, researchers have found.

The modifications HTC made in a version of the Android mobile operating system running on select devices included an HTClogger application used for debugging and troubleshooting, researchers at Android application enthusiast blog AndroidPolice reported on 1 October. According to the report, all the information collected by HTCLogger is unsecured and accessible to any application installed on the device that accesses the Internet.

‘Sense’ firmware affected

Affected devices include those with the “Sense” firmware installed, such as HTC EVO 3D, EVO 4G, ThunderBolt, MyTouch 4G Slide and Sensation, according to AndroidPolice. A proof of concept is available on the AndroidPolice blog, and users are encouraged to download it to see if their devices are affected.

“Theoretically, it may be possible to clone a device using only a small subset of the information leaked here,” Artem Russakovskii, the blog’s founder, wrote on AndroidPolice.

AndroidPolice researchers were careful to point out the problem wasn’t with Android, but in the way HTC set up the logging suite. “It’s like leaving your keys under the mat and expecting nobody who finds them to unlock the door,” Russakovskii wrote.

AndroidPolice claimed to have alerted HTC on 24 September to the issue but received “no real response” from the phone manufacturer for five business days. As a result, the researchers decided to make the information public to “make things move a whole lot faster,” Russakovskii wrote. Trevor Eckhart, who found the vulnerability, publicised the findings on 30 September.

In a recent update to some of its devices, HTC introduced a suite of logging tools, which collected a lot of information, such as the list of user accounts, including email addresses and sync status for each, last known network and GPS locations, a limited history of previous locations, phone numbers stored in the phone log, SMS data and system logs.

The suite does not protect the generated log file, making it trivial for an application to easily read the information. It’s not clear what the purpose of the logs is, but it may be for debugging and troubleshooting purposes.

‘Ridiculously frivolous doings’

Other pieces of data, such as active alerts in the notification bar, network information including the IP address, running processes and list of installed applications, could also be potentially leaked, according to Russakovskii.

“They expose such ridiculously frivolous doings, [for] which HTC has no one else to blame but itself,” Russakovskii wrote.

Eckhart, Russakovskii and another AndroidPolice researcher Justin Case also uncovered the AndroidVNCServer application in the HTC suite. The application appears to install a remote-access server by default, but is turned off by default. However, researchers were concerned that the presence of a remote-access server on the device opened up the possibility of a remote attacker potentially getting access to the phone.

According to AndroidPolice, there’s not much users with affected HTC devices can do beyond rooting the device to remove the HTCLoggers application. Users can install custom firmware such as CyanogenMod after rooting, or keep the original firmware in hopes HTC would fix the problem and issue a new update.

HTC is supposedly looking into the issue, although the company has not yet issued a statement.

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