The News of the World voicemail-hacking scandal seemed confined to the United Kingdom at first-until we learned that reporters from the now-defunct newspaper tried to access the phone records of people who died in the 9/11 attacks.
A former New York policeman (who now works as a private investigator) came forward recently, saying that News of the World employees had offered to pay him in exchange for providing phone numbers of 9/11 victims and a list of calls they made just before the World Trade Center's twin towers fell.
"This investigator is used by a lot of journalists in America and he recently told me that he was asked to hack into the 9/11 victims' private phone data," a source told The Mirror. "He said that the journalists asked him to access records showing the calls that had been made to and from the mobile phones belonging to the victims and their relatives. His presumption was that they wanted the information so they could hack into the relevant voicemails, just like it has been shown they have done in the UK."
The private eye said he turned the job down, knowing "how insensitive such research would be, and how bad it would look."
The News of the World was shuttered this week after 11,000 documents seized from another private investigator revealed their unscrupulous research methods: They had illegally accessed the voicemails of more than 4,000 people, from the royal family to celebrities to a missing and murdered teen.
How did they do it? Turns out that it didn't involve fancy code-breaking or persistently trying different number combinations. In fact, it was distressingly simple: Most cell phone voicemail accounts come with a pre-set default password or personal identification number (PIN), usually something easy like 0000, 123456, or the last four digits of your cell phone number. And most people don't bother to change it.
"Generally, your phone provider gives you your phone, you ring your voicemail number, and you access your voicemail. Most people don't even think about a PIN, or think they even have that facility," phone security expert David Rogers told BNET news. "If you had a default PIN and you haven't had any need to set your PIN, then people could have listened to your voicemails."
The best way to protect your voicemail from being hacked is to change your password. Really, it's that simple. Contact your wireless carrier for instructions on how to change the voice mail password for your phone. It's tempting to make that code something easy to remember but, unfortunately, that often makes it easy for someone else to figure it out. For maximum security, change your password regularly, and
- don't use your birth date
- don't use your address
- don't use part of your cell phone number
- don't save your password in your cell phone's address book (or, if you must, create a fake "friend" under which to save it)
- don't tell anyone else what your password is
One way hackers get a hold of your password is to trick you into resetting it to an easy-to-find default number. If you're prompted to change your password, be sure to customize it immediately instead of using a default. Here are some things you should do to create a hacker-proof password, according to the experts at GeekSugar.com:
- Choose a phrase: This one time at band camp
- Change words to numbers: This 1 time at band camp
- Pick first letter of each word: T1TABC
- Add special characters: T1T@BC
- Customize by adding an abbreviation of the name of site you're creating the password for: For Amazon.com, it would be T1T@BCAMA
Have you ever had your voicemail hacked?
Also on Shine: