Sunday, March 06, 2005

Don't hand your data to hackers

Once again, hackers have found an easy way to get personal information. Apparently, although there is usually a 4 digit passcode to access your cellphone voicemail, some cellular providers allow, if not encourage, you to turn off that protection. They claim that you have to initiate the call from your own cell phone to access the account, so that should be enough protection.

Well, that might be ok if they had a better way to ensure that you are actually placing that call from your phone yourself. It has been discovered that the service providers use caller ID to know where the call comes from. Did you know that caller ID can be spoofed? No? Neither did the cell phone companies. Not only is it possible, there's even at least one company offering to do it for commercial customers!

Now, if you need to enter your passcode to access your voicemail and contact list, the hacker spoofing your caller ID is still out of luck. But if your service provider gave you the option to bypass the code, and you accepted the offer, your messages and friends' phone numbers are ripe to be plucked. Not only can an enterprising hacker get your information, a jealous girlfriend/boyfriend or other sneaky friend can do the same.

This is one case where any careful consumer can protect themselves very easily. If you have taken advantage of the "skip passcode" feature on your cellphone, just cancel it. Reinstate a 4 digit passcode and, of course, keep it safe. Please don't use the last 4 digits of your phone number, your address, etc. Even a child would be able to hack those. Choose a code that none of your family or friends could guess, and don't keep a copy anywhere near your phone.

With just 4 digits, you can break the link between clever hackers and foolish service providers.

Note that many T-Mobile and Sprint customers have turned off their passcodes. Verizon and Cingular/AT&T appear to be less vulnerable to this hack because their customers don't have the option to "skip passcode." If you are a customer of any other cell phone company, contact them for more information.

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