A data logger pushed out by HTC to Android handsets has opened up a vulnerability allowing any app with internet permissions to access private customer information.
The vulnerability was spotted by Trevor Eckhart, who informed HTC about it and waited five days for a response. Following that he decided to go public and gave Android Police the details along with demonstration code and a video showing how an application that is supposed to see almost nothing can now see almost everything.
So an application that is supposed to be restricted to accessing the internet - a common ability requested by freebie apps to collect advertisements - can also access the user's location and details of all their synchronised accounts, not to mention the list of running tasks, the state of Wi-Fi connections, and system logs.
The data is being collected by a system package called HtcLoggers.apk, installed by HTC onto a range of Android handsets for reasons that aren't clear. That logging package accumulates data all the time, but it also has an accessible interface that other applications can use to request specific information - it even has a "help" command for those who don't know what it is they want to know.
The information provided includes a load of system information as well as the account and location data, which is probably most sensitive, and the internet privileges requested also mean the application can send the data off to parts unknown, which is nice.
Eckhart has produced a demonstration app, and is asking those with HTC handsets to take a look and help establish how widespread HtcLoggers.apk is.
When looking closely at what HTC had installed he also stumbled across the scarily named androidvncserver.apk (VNC being a remote-control protocol), but hasn't found any way to activate it as yet so this could be a red herring.
We don't know because HTC isn't saying. The company gave us a statement saying it is aware of the accusations and is looking into them, and that it is "taking customers' security seriously". But HTC received notification a week ago, and didn't respond to that information until it was made public.
The breach is a serious one, particularly given that free apps so often ask for internet privileges to collect embedded adverts. Such an app could now harvest data for spear phishing or similar, and given the publicly available demonstration code it would be naive to think someone isn't working on that right now.
So if you've an HTC Android handset then it's probably worth laying off the free downloads, at least until HTC has something more useful to tell us. ®