I've been following the unfolding scandal at the British tabloid News of the World and wondered: How can people be so silly to not protect their privacy with a password on their voicemail?
Well, it turns out I am silly! Hundreds of millions of us are. The default settings with most mobile carriers are set at "PLEASE HACK ME." That's why it was so easy for reporters to hack thousands of people's voicemail systems. I outline how to protect your phone below.
But I've also been thinking: How can people be so sleazy and unethical?
I've seen this before.
When I worked on Wall Street there were many insider-trading scandals. It's just plain sleazy (and also illegal) to trade on inside information.
Pretending to be somebody you’re not such as Edelman PR's fake blog, Wal-Marting Across America. It's just plain sleazy to try to fool people on social networks.
And now the phone voicemail hacking. It's just plain sleazy to invade people's privacy by listening to their private voicemail messages.
You'd think that financial markets professionals, PR professionals, and media professionals would know better. But some are prepared to stake their reputations (and even the possibility of jail time) to gain an unethical advantage.
You are vulnerable to phone hacking
If you can access your voicemails from your mobile directly - without entering a password - then you're vulnerable. I was, and I didn't even know it.
Hackers use simple services called caller ID spoofing, which allows them to make a call that appears to be coming from any phone number they choose. So if somebody were to call my mobile phone number and use spoof software to fool the system into thinking it was me calling from my own phone, they get access to my messages. Here's a good 7-minute video from WSJ that outlines spoofing.
This is what reporters at News of the World did. The resulting crisis brought down the 168 year old newspaper and derailed News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch's proposed takeover or BSkyB.
Protect your voicemail now
I'm an iPhone user and use AT&T. I'm told that the vulnerabilities are similar on other devices and with other carriers.
I found out how to protect myself and reproduce the steps here. If you are not an AT&T customer, there is probably something similar for your carrier. (Users of other wireless providers feel free to leave the steps in the comments section.
Protect yourself now.
Please, do the right thing.
There are no shortcuts. And even if there were, how the hell can you live with yourself if you pretend to be someone you’re not, or trade on inside information, or hack people’s personal information?