The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is conducting a study to investigate the security update practices of mobile device manufacturers. The study is being conducted amid concern that mobile device manufacturers are not doing enough to ensure owners of mobile devices are protected from security threats.

Security Update Practices of Mobile Device Manufacturers Leave Mobile Users Exposed to Attack

A number of new and highly serious threats have emerged in recent years which allow attackers to remotely execute malicious code on mobile devices if users visit a compromised website. One of the most serious threats comes from the Stagefright vulnerability discovered last year.

The Stagefright vulnerability could potentially be exploited to allow attackers to gain control of Android smartphones. It has been estimated that as many as one billion devices are prone to attack via this vulnerability. Google released an Android update to fix the vulnerability, yet many mobile phone users were unable to update their devices as the manufacturer of their device, or the mobile carrier they used, did not allow the updates to be installed. Because of this, many smartphone owners are still vulnerable to attack.

Even when device manufacturers do update their devices there are often long delays between the issuing of the fix and the rolling out of updates. When a rollout is executed, it can take a week or more before all device owners receive their updates. During that time users are left vulnerable to attack.

The FTC wants to find out more about the delays and the rationale behind the slow rolling out of updates.

FTC and FCC Join Forces and Demand Answers from Carriers and Device Manufacturers

The FTC has joined forces with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the study and has ordered smartphone manufacturers and developers of mobile device operating systems to explain how security updates are issued, the reasoning behind the decision to delay the issuing of security updates, and for some device manufacturers, why security updates are not being issued.

While the study is primarily being conducted on manufacturers of devices running the Android platform, although Apple has also been ordered to take part in the study, even though its devices are the most secure. Apple’s security update practices are likely to serve as a benchmark against which other manufacturers will be judged. Manufacturers that use the Android platform that will take part in the study include Blackberry, HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung. Google and Microsoft will also take part.

The FTC is asking operating system developers and mobile manufacturers to disclose the factors that are considered when deciding whether to issue updates to correct known vulnerabilities. They have been asked to provide detailed information on the devices they have sold since August 2013, if security vulnerabilities have been discovered that affect those devices, and if and when those vulnerabilities have been – or will be – patched.

The FCC has asked questions of mobile phone carriers including the length of time that devices will be supported, the timing and frequency of updates, the process used when developing security updates, and whether device owners were notified when the decision was taken not to issue a security update for a specific device model.

Whether the study will result in better security update practices of mobile device manufacturers remains to be seen, although the results of the study, if published in full, will certainly make for interesting reading.