Keeping Voicemail Private

How hard is it to hack into a cellphone’s voicemail? Quite easy.  Reporters from the British paper News of the World hacked into the phones of celebrities, politicians and private citizens including a  murdered schoolgirl, relatives of deceased British soldiers, and victims of the 7/7 London bombings. For a quick update on the scandal check out this clip from the Daily Show.

The reporters easily gained access because most people did not change their default PIN.   Mobile phones used to come with a default PIN that was the same for all phones. Customers were expected to change this universal PIN, but very few did.  Reporters called the cell phone, entered the universal PIN and gained access to voicemail. Now, mobile phones require a user to enter a new PIN.  

But for newer phones, people can still access voicemail by “spoofing”.  When accessing voicemail from your own phone, most cell phones do not require you to enter a password. Several online services, for a small fee, will allow you to “spoof” — or fake — a caller ID number.  The system now thinks the call is coming from your own phone and no password is required.  

In the USA, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint allow subscribers to access voice messages without entering a PIN.  Only Verizon requires customers  to enter a PIN for voicemail access.   If your account is compromised, there is no way to tell unless the intruder starts deleting messages, or using the stolen information.

How to avoid someone hacking into your child’s or your own phone? 

  •  Always reset the default PIN with a new PIN.
  • Do not use easy to obtain public information such as your birthdate for a PIN.  
  • Set your voicemail so you must enter the PIN every time. 
  • Do not use the same PIN for everything. 
  • Delete messages after listening to them.