The National Communications Commission (NCC) is planning to establish a certification system for mobile phone security following reports that Chinese smartphone vendor Xiaomi automatically sends personal information to its servers in Bejing without first securing the consent of users.
A story published in a blog post of Finnish security company F-Secure Corp indicated that Xiaomi smatphones’ built-in text-messaging application, MIUI, can send users’ information to the company’s servers in Beijing without their approval.
Because of the loophole, the report said that the Chinese vendor can access users’ mobile phone number, the international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) code as well as the SIM card number.
The international mobile subscriber identity code would be exposed too if the user signs on to Xiaomi’s cloud service, the report said.
Similar to Apple Inc’s iMessage service, MIUI allows users to send text messages through the Internet rather than through telecoms’ networks.
The story was subsequently picked up by Taiwanese media outlets, with Xiaomi users in Taiwan reportedly topping 400,000. The Beijing-based smartphone vendor first denied the reports, but later apologized for the unauthorized data collection.
It added that the messaging system would only be activated on an “opt-in” basis and personal information would be encrypted and would not be stored on its servers.
The commission said it told the Chinese company to inspect all types of phones — not only the two mentioned in the F-Secure blog — that it sells in Taiwan and determine if they have the same issue.
“We have notified them that they should provide a written explanation of how they plan to address the issue,” said Lo Chin-hsien (羅金賢), director of the commission’s Resources and Technologies Department. “We will ask them to come in and answer questions if necessary.”
The commission is to meet with other mobile phone manufacturers soon to discuss how they address information security issues, Lo said.
He added that the Executive Yuan has determined that the applications built into mobile phones will be tested by the commission, while applications downloaded via mobile phones will be supervised by the Industrial Development Bureau.
While the commission has a certification system for mobile phone interfaces, batteries and other specifications, it does not have one yet for information security.
It is aiming to establish an information security mechanism by the end of next year, he said.
“Currently, there is no country in the world that demands that mobile phone manufacturers have national certifications for information security. We can only encourage mobile phone manufacturers to take such certification when it becomes available,” he said.
Lo said the mechanism would not only target mobile phones produced in China, but it would apply to other manufacturers as well.
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