News of the World phone hacking: Implications for local businesses

Consumers and businesses should familiarise themselves with their carriers' security policies: Expert

The voicemail hacking scandal engulfing journalists of now-defunct UK newspaper News of the World serves as a timely reminder for Australian businesses and consumers to update their phone security.

Klein&Co director, Nick Klein,who served with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) until 2003, told Computerworld Australia that carriers in Australia have taken a number of steps to prevent similar phone hacking attacks.

“The methods that are being reported to have been used by News of the World involve security weaknesses that have since been corrected, such as being able to dial someone’s voicemail box on the carrier’s network and enter a default pin code to get their messages, guess the pin code without being locked out, and ringing phones when they are engaged and pressing the star key to get to their voicemail box."

However, this was no cause for complacency and people should familiarise themselves with the security settings that their carrier provides, he said.

"Carriers now send SMS messages when security events occur and they will even lock down voicemail if they believe it has been compromised."

Two Australian Acts protect enterprises and consumers in the advent of a phone hacking attempt. These are the <i>Criminal Code Act</i> of 1995, which states that it is an offence to obtain authorised access to a computer system, and the <i>Telecommunications Interception Act</i> of 1979, which was amended in 2006 to cover stored communications such as SMS, voicemail and email.

However, current Australian legislation allows for the AFP to intercept phone communications through a special warrant.

“It’s no secret those powers exist and I think it is fantastic that law enforcement agencies are using high tech methods to further their work,” Klein said.

Klein also warned that the increased popularity of Cloud services could make it easier for hackers to access information.

"You could argue that now we are moving to the Cloud and there are all these services becoming internet- and network-based, that these type of attacks are only going to increase and there will be more opportunities because people’s private information is stored by someone else on a network. People should be asking questions about how secure that information is when it is stored in the Cloud," he said.

Got a security tip-off? Contact Hamish Barwick at hamish_barwick at idg.com.au

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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