'Secret backdoor' in some Android phones sent user data to China: Report

Image: torbakhopper/Flickr

Security contractors said they’ve discovered pre-installed software on some Android phones in the U.S. that sends a variety of users’ data to China through a secret backdoor.

The software tracks users’ whereabouts, whom they talk to and the content of their text messages, sending the information to a server in China every three days, The New York Times reported. It isn’t clear whether the secret backdoor is being exploited for advertising purposes or by the Chinese government for surveillance.

It’s also unclear how widespread the vulnerability is, although the software was more commonly found on prepaid phones. Shangai Adups Technology Company, which developed the software, said its code runs on more than 700 million devices including smartphones, the Times said.

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Blu Products, a Florida-based handset vendor, said 120,000 of its phones had been affected. The company said software on its phones had been updated to address the backdoor.

Blu is a relatively minor player in the North American smartphone market, but it has attracted significant attention in recent months. Its R1 HD phone became Amazon’s top-selling smartphone for a time in August after the online retailer began offering the phone for $50 to subscribers of its Prime service willing to accept ads and pre-installed Amazon apps.

More recently, BlackBerry filed two separate patent lawsuits against Blu, claiming the manufacturer infringed on 15 of its claims related to 2G, 3G and LTE technologies.

Adups said it intentionally created the backdoor to enable a Chinese phone vendor to track user behavior, the Times reported, and that version of the software wasn’t meant for the U.S. market.

Regardless, the news underscores the difficulties some Chinese smartphone manufacturers continue to face in cracking the U.S. market due to security concerns. Huawei has emerged as a major player in the worldwide smartphone market, for instance, but its high-profile Huawei 8 has been all but ignored by operators such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. Similarly, Xiaomi has yet to try to elbow its way into the U.S., although the company reportedly has developed versions of at least two of its phones for testing on U.S. mobile networks.

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