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Saturday, July 16, 2011

How to prevent your phone and voice mail from being hacked

In the wake of recent events overseas it has become clear that we need to be more aware of how important securing our phone and voice mail is. The hacking scandal in Great Britain has revealed just how easy it can be to break into someone’s voice mail – that is if they haven’t taken some simple steps to secure it.
Without taking the time to protect your phone and voice mail anyone with your phone number and a little know-how could potentially access, or delete, important personal information. Most of us probably aren’t too worried about someone listening to our messages, but as we’re seeing now it only takes one event or one incriminating message finding the wrong ears to trigger serious – sometimes life threatening – repercussions.

Securing your phone and voice mail doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and you don’t have to be any sort of tech guru to enjoy a fair level of security. Here are some simple tips to protect your phone and voice mail from the most common avenues of attack.

Lock your phone and voice mail

Tabloid journalists at the center of the previously mentioned scandal were able to retrieve voice mail messages by using default passwords. If you’ve yet to setup a password for your voice mail, there may be no protection at all. If you’re able to access your voice mail from your home phone or cell without entering a password, go into the settings and ensure that it does ask you for your password every time. Without having to enter your password every time would-be hackers can use caller ID spoofing to masquerade as your phone and are granted the same access. So take a minute to select a password, add it to your voice mail and keep your phone locked.

Avoid common passwords

Using an easy to guess or common password is virtually the same as having no password. In a recent survey of iPhone locking passwords 15% of subjects used one of the following 10 passwords:

1234, 0000, 2580, 1111, 5555, 5683 (Spells “LOVE”), 0852, 2222, 1212, 1998

If your password is one of these then it’s time for a change. Check with a friend and see if they can guess your password – do you want them reading your voice mail? I didn’t think so.

Use different passwords for different systems

It’s important for all services and devices – not only phone related – to avoid using the same password over and over. You might give someone the unlock password for your phone in order to allow them to place a call, you wouldn’t want that to be the same password you use for ATM withdrawals. If you happen to lose your phone its unlock password can be extracted with software, if it’s the same password you use for voice mail and banking then you may end up losing more than your phone. It can be difficult to juggle a variety of passwords in your head (especially given the next tip) but it really does improve the security of your accounts greatly. Having only one password is like having a single key which opens every door in your house, everything in your office, starts your car and unlocks your diary; sure it’s convenient but if someone makes a copy you could be in big trouble.

If you find that you simply can’t remember new passwords or more than a couple at a time I highly recommend Joshua Foer’s recent book, Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.

Change your password regularly

Yes, it’s a precaution we all know we should practice but for the most part don’t. I won’t belabour the point; suffice it to say that if someone has deciphered your password without your knowledge changing it regularly is the best defense.

Lock, Reset or Cancel your lost phone

You’ve lost your phone. You’ve called it, you can’t hear it ring anywhere and no one answers – or worse yet it’s not on. If it’s an iPhone and you’ve enabled “Find My iPhone” you can login and attempt to locate, lock or reset your lost friend. If these types of options aren’t available with your handset, call your mobile provider and have them put your account on hold. They may be able to locate or remotely reset the phone to keep your data away from prying eyes, but at the very least you can put your account on hold so that no one may make phone calls on your behalf. Don’t wait too long before making this call; there is always a chance that your phone was stolen with malicious intent.

Be aware

I’ve always enjoyed this particular quote which I first heard in a film, “Where there is doubt, there is no doubt.” Extra points if you can guess what film. In the context of keeping your phone and voice mail secure I see this quote to mean, if you notice something that causes you to doubt the security of one of your accounts – treat it as if it has been compromised. After all, changing the password is a quick and easy process. If you login to your voice mail to find new messages have already been listened to or someone tells you they left you voice mail that you never received – don’t doubt, just change your password. In most cases there’s probably no cause to be alarmed, but you’ve nothing to lose by changing your password. So be aware of your accounts, and if something concerns you don’t ignore it.

With these simple tips you can transform not only your phone and voice mail accounts, but almost any type of account, from a shoebox under the bed into a one ton vault bolted to the foundation of your home.


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