A T-mobile store in Arlington, Va. A hachồng of the company exposed the personal information of 48 million people, some of them only prospective sầu customers. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A Federal Communications Commission probe inkhổng lồ the haông chồng of T-Smartphone US Inc. is the agency’s first high-protệp tin cyber inquiry under a Biden administration that has promised lớn more aggressively police companies’ security standards & privacy safeguards.

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The haông chồng, which T-di động disclosed on Monday, hit a communications sector in which cyber oversight is spread across federal agencies, including the FCC, which has taken a largely hands-off approach khổng lồ data security in recent years. But U.S. officials this year have sầu signaled a new willingness lớn use regulatory power khổng lồ shore up the cyber defenses of critical infrastructure.

“Telecommunications companies have a duty to protect their customers’ information,” an FCC spokeswoman said on Wednesday, declining to comment further.

A T-thiết bị di động representative didn’t respond lớn a request for phản hồi on the inquiry.

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The FCC’s cybersecurity guidelines are largely voluntary, with agency officials producing recommendations for best practices. The Transportation Security Administration took a similar approach to lớn pipeline cyber standards until the haông chồng of Colonial Pipeline Co. in May. Since then, the agency has rolled out first-of-their-kind regulations, including a requirement that pipeline operators report cyberattacks.

While the T-điện thoại haông xã didn’t disrupt U.S. communications networks, the company said on Wednesday that hackers stole personal data like Social Security & driver’s license numbers on about 48 million people.

The Federal Trade Commission has investigated other personal data breaches, including the 2017 Equifax hachồng that concluded with a settlement of at least $575 million. The agency, which in 2019 began studying how telecom carriers collect và store data, declined to phản hồi on T-mobile.

Most of the records stolen from T-sản phẩm điện thoại came from past or prospective customers, the company said. While storing such information isn’t illegal, it could raise additional questions at the FTC & other agencies on the company’s security practices, said Amy Keller, leader of the cybersecurity & technology law group at DiCello Levitt Gutzler.

“ Why were they keeping the Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers for these people? ”

— Amy Keller, DiCello Levitt Gutzler

“Why were they keeping the Social Security numbers và driver’s license numbers for these people?” asked Ms. Keller, who has co-led class-action lawsuits against hacked companies like Equifax. “These people didn’t even sign an agreement with T-sản phẩm điện thoại.”

The incident at T-thiết bị di động is the latest in a string of breaches at the Bellevue, Wash.-based wireless carrier, the second largest in the U.S.

Telecom firms “have sầu a great set of customer data for their businesses,” said Susan Welsh de Grimalvì chưng, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc. “At the same time, it makes them a target.”

The FCC has penalized companies for lax data-security practices in the past, though under different authorities.

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TerraCom Inc. & YourTel America Inc., two affiliated budget wireless carriers, in năm ngoái paid $3.5 million and entered a consent decree after agency officials found that a vendor had stored data on 300,000 customers of the two carriers in readable text files on servers open to lớn the internet. The FCC’s enforcement bureau said at the time that the failure to reasonably secure customer information violated the Communications Act, the 1934 law that established the agency.

Also in 2015, AT&T Inc. paid $25 million lớn settle an investigation into lớn the improper access of 280,000 customers’ personal data, as well as so-called customer proprietary network information, or CPNI, lượt thích phone numbers called & the timing of chats. FCC rules say carriers have sầu a duty khổng lồ protect such data, and companies must obtain annual privacy certifications for it from the FCC.


Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a năm ngoái phokhổng lồ. Photo: Lauren Victoria Burke/Associated Press

In the T-mobile investigation, the agency could be seeking details on whether the stolen data is covered under CPNI rules, said Michael O’Rielly, an FCC commissioner from 2013 to 20trăng tròn.

Republican commissioners lượt thích Mr. O’Rielly tend khổng lồ take a narrower view of the FCC’s cyber authorities. In a 2017 Senate hearing, he described the agency’s jurisdiction over data security as “extremely limited.”

Under the Trump administration, the FCC pushed carriers khổng lồ avoid equipment from Chinese-owned firm Huawei Technologies Co. for fear of hacks. Yet the agency rolled back some Obama-era practices: in 2017, President Trump signed a law repealing FCC privacy rules for internet service providers.

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC from 2013 khổng lồ 2017, said the Biden administration needs to sharpen the agency’s focus on security as 5G networks proliferate and enable much larger transmissions of data.

Still, he said, industry buy-in on improved cyber procedures, coupled with investigations inkhổng lồ bad cyber practices, is preferable lớn imposing top-down regulations. Regulations can’t keep pace with technological innovation và may actually give hackers hints on the strong and weak points in companies’ computer systems, he said.

“Rigid rules are just invitations to the bad guy to work his way around them,” Mr. Wheeler said.

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—James Rundle contributed to lớn this article.

Write to David Uberti at david.uberti

Appeared in the August trăng tròn, 2021, print edition as "T-Smartphone Faces Probe After Hachồng."