Media Blog

How Did News of the World Hack Voicemail Accounts?

PCMag.com explains the startling simplicity of the hack:

The alleged actions of the tabloid’s cell phone-hacking employees may beggar belief, Kevin Mahaffey, co-founder and CTO of mobile security firm Lookout, told PC Mag Wednesday. But their techniques for accessing other people’s private mail boxes were probably very simple.

The first big revelation in the scandal that made big news in the U.K. was the alleged hacking of 13-year-old Milly Dowler’s phone following her 2002 abduction by a private detective retained by News of the World. Dowler’s dead body was found six months after her abduction.

Given the timeframe, Mahaffey said a simple caller ID spoof would have allowed the private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, to hack Dowler’s voice mail box. Accessing the voice mail’s on the victim’s phone may not have even required a PIN number back in 2002, Mahaffey said.

“Around that time period, a lot of voice mail systems used caller ID to identify if this is the phone number that owns this inbox, and you wouldn’t even have to use your password,” he said. “You would dial say, “*86,” and you’d get your inbox. If a person spoofed their caller ID, they’d get the messages that belong to you.

“That’s largely been fixed. I can’t speak to every single voice mail system in the world, but we worked with a lot of the network operators to fix that.”

Spoofing a caller ID was—and is—pretty easy, Mahaffey added.

“There are a lot of free applications that allow you to spoof a caller ID,” he said. “It’s not very hard to do at all. School kids can do it.”

Getting a person’s personal phone number to spoof could be accomplished by finding it in publicly available documents such as student listings, or these days, on social networking sites like Facebook. A bit of social engineering with real people who know or could access the number would accomplish the same thing, Mahaffey said.

Most Popular

U.S.

Zoomers and the Constitution

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center compared generational views on key social and political issues, focusing on the similarities between Millennials and Generation Z. The topics probed include race relations, diversity, climate change, capitalism, socialism, and the role of government. This last item, ... Read More
U.S.

Zoomers and the Constitution

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center compared generational views on key social and political issues, focusing on the similarities between Millennials and Generation Z. The topics probed include race relations, diversity, climate change, capitalism, socialism, and the role of government. This last item, ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More
Elections

Is the Biden Campaign Struggling?

On the menu today: a long, long list of Democrats warning that the Biden campaign may not be as strong as it looks in key states and among key demographics; another former White House staffer comes out and denounces the president, offering a hard lesson about how personnel is policy; and a long look at the ... Read More
Elections

Is the Biden Campaign Struggling?

On the menu today: a long, long list of Democrats warning that the Biden campaign may not be as strong as it looks in key states and among key demographics; another former White House staffer comes out and denounces the president, offering a hard lesson about how personnel is policy; and a long look at the ... Read More

The Last Days of Robin Williams

After Robin Williams hanged himself in 2014, the media speculated that financial troubles or depression related to drug or alcohol use might have been the cause. Without discussing those topics, Williams’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, is eager to set the record straight and does so in Robin’s Wish, a ... Read More

The Last Days of Robin Williams

After Robin Williams hanged himself in 2014, the media speculated that financial troubles or depression related to drug or alcohol use might have been the cause. Without discussing those topics, Williams’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, is eager to set the record straight and does so in Robin’s Wish, a ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Enough of ‘Orange Man Bad’

The Trump era has brought its own unique vocabulary: Never Trump, anti-anti-Trump, Deep State, QAnon, “The Resistance,” Podbros, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and of course, MAGA, to name just a few. But by far the most useless phrase to emerge over the last few years is “Orange Man Bad.” If you follow ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Enough of ‘Orange Man Bad’

The Trump era has brought its own unique vocabulary: Never Trump, anti-anti-Trump, Deep State, QAnon, “The Resistance,” Podbros, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and of course, MAGA, to name just a few. But by far the most useless phrase to emerge over the last few years is “Orange Man Bad.” If you follow ... Read More