Phone hacking – are you next?

The world’s been talking about the fallout for Rupert Murdoch’s media business for quite a while now- but what exactly is phone hacking, and could you be next?

Well the unfortunate truth is it’s incredibly easy to do and you may well have already been a victim.

Most mobile phone operators around the world allow you to ‘dial in’ to your mobile phone using a slightly modified version of your mobile phone number, or sometimes via a central ‘voicemail’ access number. The next step is to enter a PIN number, and this is where the security of your messages are at risk; as most cell-phone companies use the value of ‘0000’ as the default value for your PIN number and you are expected to change this to a more secure and memorable number. But a large percentage of us don’t….leaving us vulnerable to prying by commercial competitors, suspicious spouses or indeed, unscrupulous journalists.

The second method is more complex but has been employed by some more tech-cavvy snoopers; when you call your voice-mail from your own mobile phone, the mobile company uses your caller ID to recognise you and simply ‘play’ your messages to you, usually without asking for your PIN number. It is possible to use VOIP services to ‘fool’ your cellphone company into thinking it’s you calling and thereby exposing your messages to a third party. Today, I scanned the web and found 2 VOIP companies who’s online documentation made it clear that their service can enable this sort of activity. That said, some phone companies whose subscribers were at risk are already reviewing the technical set-up of their systems to prohibit this sort of activity.

Basic tips to make sure you don’t fall victim to the snoopers:

Be suspicious if you have a message marked as old or ‘read’- that you haven’t listened to. This could indicate someone is listening to your messages.

Change your PIN number as soon as you sign-up with a mobile phone service.

Use something memorable for your PIN, but not easy to guess, like your birthday.

  1. The origins of Phone ‘Phreaking’ on Wikipedia.