As the fall-out from the News of the World scandal continues, many sources continue to inaccurately refer to “mobile phone hacking”. The truth (as far as is known) was that it was the voicemail of the mobile phone that was hacked rather than the phone itself. There are two ways to do this – the first is to simply guess the PIN of the voicemail and the second is to use Caller ID spoofing.
In the mid-2000s, most mobile phone voicemail systems were poorly protected as they typically came with a default PIN which was often easily guessed and only varied according to the mobile phone company. Most users didn’t bother to change the PIN. Say the phone was on Orange, then the default PIN was 1234. If it was Vodafone, then 0000. Typically, the villain then makes two simultaneous calls to the victim. One will be picked up, the other will go to voicemail. By then pressing “*” or “#” while listening to the voicemail prompts, the individual can gain access to the voicemail system using the default PIN. Computeractive has article covering this scenario and how, in theory, it would be harder (but not impossible) to take this approach today.
As for Caller ID spoofing, this technique makes a call look like it’s coming from a different number than it actually is. It can be used legally to make someone calling from a mobile to actually appear to be coming from a company office, so that the person’s mobile number is not divulged. However, in some instances it has been used to gain access to voicemail boxes as many voicemail systems do not ask for further identification if the system recognises the inbound Caller ID as one of its own. PC Mag and c|net have short articles on how this is done and worryingly, this is still a threat. The Wall Street Journal covered the problem in 2010 before the current scandal broke.
It would appear that the best protection to both these attacks is (a) to change your PIN on your voicemail and (b) require your PIN even when calling from your own mobile phone. That way, even if your Caller ID is spoofed, the caller can’t get in without knowing your PIN.
According to a tweet today from @oedonline and subsequently retweeted by British author and actor @stephenfry, the first use of the term “mobile phone” was in Yank, The Army Weekly back in 1947. The context was, “They say the mobile phone will enable Doc Jones to start out on his rounds and keep in touch with his nurse back in the office.” Very prophetic.
Except that it seems to be wrong…it was 1945. Firstly, Yank ceased publication in December 1945 and secondly, one of the OED’s own quizzes has the question, “When did the mobile phone first enter the English language?” and then helpfully provides the answer of 1945. March issue apparently.
Given that Stephen Fry has over 2.7 million followers, this small error has propagated enormously, especially as the OED only has 8,000-odd followers. If you now do a search in Google, most of the hits reference Stephen Fry’s tweets. Only one entry in the whole ream of results actually is correct.
The Internet is a powerful tool for spreading information…and misinformation.
PS I’d like to emphasise that this post is in no way a criticism of Stephen Fry, of whom I’m a great fan.
As the world is gripped by Royal Wedding fever (yawn), mobile phone operator O2 have blogged about their preparations from the big day. As you might expect, there will be a few more mobile phones, texts and picture messages sent from heart of London than you’d get on an average Friday in April but what might surprise you is how much more O2 is predicting.
O2 reckon that there will be an additional 300,000 customers in the London area, each making at least one phone call, receiving four texts / picture messages and sending or receiving one email. The usage sounds a little low to me but they’re the experts. Astonishingly, they expect 327 million pictures will be taken on a mobile phone. That’s a lot.
To cope with the extra traffic, there will additional cells around the wedding hotspots such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the procession route, St James’ Park and Hyde Park, bringing the total number of cells to 283. The London network has been recently upgraded as well, so it’s going to hold up under the extra traffic – fingers crossed.
They’re also expecting people outside of Westminster Abbey to stream the wedding ceremony itself from the BBC’s iPlayer and similar services. That’ll put some load onto the 3G network, nevermind the BBC’s servers.
And to ensure that network maintenance doesn’t have any unintended consequences, O2 has locked the phone network down between the day before and the day after the event and only emergency repairs allowed. Very reassuring for the wedding watchers.
I’m sure other mobile phone providers will be doing similar things but it’s interesting to see a little of what goes on behind the scenes.
As smartphones get more powerful with more storage, the possibility of losing something important when your phone is misplaced or stolen, gets ever greater. And it’s not really business documents that are important, it’s your photos that are really irreplaceable.
Iomega‘s new SuperHero Backup and Charger for iPhone and iPod Touch can help with this problem. It’s a charging cradle that also backups up contacts and photos to the included 4GB SD card (which can be upgraded by the user, if needed). An Iomega backup and restore application is available from the iTunes store. It’s especially useful for those people who never sync their iPhone to their Mac.
Available from the end of January for $69.
Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central.
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O2 in the UK has a launched a web-based live mobile network status checker. It allows you to check the status of its mobile network in your area by simply putting in the post code. The page will then tell you what’s going on in the network nearby and if it’s likely to affect your calls.
Here are two different results for postcodes near me right now.
At the same time, O2 has also upgraded their network coverage map. It’s now interactive with full street and satellite views from Bing. It’s also pretty honest – for my post code it says that mobile broadband won’t be good and my experience would bear that out.
As an O2 customer, both of these will be handy tools but the live network status checker will be particularly useful for seeing if there’s a known problem before I pick up the phone to the call centre.