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HTC settles with FTC over smartphone security holes

Promises to do better next time

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced a settlement with smartphone-maker HTC over complaints that its handsets are riddled with security failings, and the government watchdog says it will check on compliance for ... wait for it ... the next 20 years.

The FTC complaint claims that when HTC customized Android and Window Phone code for its smartphones, it made little or no effort to address user security. The coding was claimed to be sloppy, HTC didn't do any penetration testing on its handsets or train engineers in secure coding techniques, and the company's staff used coding methods that are well-known to be poor security practices.

As a result, the personal information of millions of Android users was put at risk by HTC's shoddy programming, the FTC claims, saying that applications were able to mask the level of data they were harvesting from end users. The FTC also cites security issues from the use of monitoring software by Carrier IQ, and HTC Loggers on HTC's Android and Windows Phone handsets.

Meanwhile, HTC's own user manuals contain "deceptive representations", the FTC charged, and it said that the manufacturer's Tell HTC application was at fault, as well. Those flaws could allow access to not only a customer's private data, but also their GPS location and the content of text messages.

Under the terms of the deal HTC admits no guilt, but the list of things that it has agreed to do suggests that there wasn't much security work being done by the Taiwanese manufacturer. The full settlement gives the company seven core tasks which you would have thought it would have done already.

These include actually assigning someone in the company to be responsible for security, doing a risk assessment on its current coding practices and handsets, designing safeguards against flawed code, and training in-house staff on good security practices, such as where to get updates and patches.

HTC also has to issue patches for the security holes it does have (Android 4.0 users will already have them, according to some reports), hire an independent third party with professional computer security credentials to check on the new internal processes, and submit a full report on progress to the FTC every other year for the next 20.

"The settlement with HTC America is part of the FTC's ongoing effort to ensure that companies secure the software and devices that they ship to consumers," said the government organization in a statement. For the next 30 days, members of the public can add their comments to the settlement here – keep it clean, please. ®

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