News Analysis: The reason the British tabloids were able to hack into so many cell phone voice mail accounts is because it was insanely easy. But it doesn't have to be.
now you've heard about the scandal in the U.K. in which employees of Rupert
Murdoch's News of the World, Sunday Times and other publications obtained
illegal access to a wide variety of
people's voice mail accounts. Some of those affected were former Prime
Minister Gordon Brown, a wide variety of celebrities, a kidnapped teen and
soldiers killed in combat in Afghanistan. As a result of this reprehensible
activity, the News of the World has been shut down.
it appears that the scandal goes beyond the U.K. Recent revelations include the
possibility that the same organizations hacked into the phones of victims of
the 9/11 terror attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. Some of the
reporters alleged to be responsible for the hacking have been arrested,
although the editor of each of the publications at the time the hacking took
place, Rebekah Brooks, unaccountably remains free.
voice mail hacking apparently was a sort of open secret-many of the victims
apparently knew that their phone passwords had been compromised. Brown, for
example, reported that he was called by Brooks, who confronted him with the
fact that his child had cystic fibrosis, information that could only have been
obtained from voice mail.
reasons that remain obscure, few of the people affected did anything about the
voice mail hacking. But just because they didn't do anything to increase the security
of their voice mail doesn't mean you shouldn't. It's actually fairly easy to
secure your phone, your voice mail and your cell phone account, but you have to
actually do it.
the only mobile phone carrier that would discuss security with eWEEK, sent over
a list of suggestions. The first suggestion is to set a password for your voice
mail and your phone. T-Mobile requires a password on voice mail before it will let
you use it. You can also set a password or PIN for the phone itself in most
cases, and the company requires a PIN before you can access your account.
T-Mobile suggests you not use the same password or PIN for any of these items.
of the problem is that people tend to be really lazy when it comes to security
of their phones. One study suggests that about 1 in 7 phones can be hacked with
one of the
top 10 lame mobile PIN codes.
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.