Andy Coulson, former communications director for British Prime Minister and former editor at British newspaper News of the World, was arrested today in connection with the hacking scandal that has led owner Rupert Murdoch to shut the paper down. The scandal initially centered around the arrest of Clive Goodman, an editor at News of the World who was sentenced to four months in jail for intercepting voicemails meant for aides who worked for various members of the royal family. The practice was apparently widespread at the paper, however, and as many as 4,000 people may have had their phone calls or voicemails intercepted by employees of the paper.
The scandal has left many people asking, “How did they do it?” and “is my phone safe?”
While there have been instances of phones being tapped by using malicious apps that people are tricked into downloading, most phone tapping is a bit more low-tech. Much of what happened with the News of the World scandal actually involved figuring out the victim’s four digit pin number for their voicemail. This allowed the perpetrator to access the voicemails remotely. This can be done by calling the victim and tricking them into giving up the information by, for example, pretending to be an employee of the phone company, or it could simply be a matter of guessing correctly. Many people use pin numbers that are easy for them to remember, like “1234”…unfortunately, it doesn’t take some sinister genius to crack that code.
Another method of hacking into smart phones involves accessing them while the owner is using an unprotected WiFi signal. While it may save money on your phone bill to use free WiFi at coffee shops and malls, you are leaving your phone or computer open to anyone else with access to that signal. We recommend that our clients only use their telephone service provider’s mobile web service or a secure WiFi signal at home.