There has been a lot of fuss made in the UK about the News of the World and its ‘phone hacking’ of the mobile phones owned by celebrities or politicians. Unfortunately, the media and apparently the police have completely underestimated the scale of the problem.
I’m no celebrity, and yet I had my phone ‘hacked’ by someone in 2002. The fact is, to gain access to someone’s voicemail is ludicrously easy if you know how. When you setup a mobile phone contract, you are given a default PIN by the mobile network for your voicemail account. These default PINs are the same for everyone on that mobile network! In order for someone to ‘hack’ your voicemail, they simply have to dial the voicemail access number of the appropriate network, try the default pin and the majority of the time they will have access to any voicemails not deleted.
It is VERY easy to do, and impossible for the target to know it is happening unless the ‘hacker’ deletes a voicemail or does something else to arouse attention (e.g. printing a news article based on what they have found!). For this reason I very much doubt that any newspaper or magazine interested in current affairs or celebrity gossip is innocent when it comes to this kind of phone hacking. The idea that one newspaper’s journalists are more immoral than the next is just ludicrous. I am sure they will soon discover (assuming the mobile networks can provide enough information to the police) that phone hacking was rife due to the mass-media’s insatiable appetite for gossip and controversy.
Phone hacking is very simple to avoid – simply change your voicemail PIN code & don’t write it down. You won’t need this PIN when dialling from the mobile, it is mainly used when dialling from a foreign country and/or a landline. You should also delete your voicemails ASAP after hearing them.
Frankly, as this problem has existed for >10 years, the mobile networks should have already done something about it. For example, forcing new subscribers to change their PIN when first accessing their voicemail. Curiously the networks have not experienced any criticism whatsoever, despite the media feeding frenzy about the issue.