How to hack voicemail

By Felix Salmon
August 29, 2011

When the NYT killed off its famous 111-111-1111 caller ID, one stated reason was “an expected change to federal law that will require legitimate caller ID signatures”. And the video above explains why such a change to the law makes sense — caller ID spoofing, up until now, has been easy, legal, and a great way of getting access to other people’s voicemail accounts.

Kevin Mitnick, in the video, says that to protect yourself from this sort of thing, the best thing to do is force yourself to type in your passcode every time you access your voicemail, even if you’re accessing it from your own phone. This is a standard move in the escalating war between hackers and civilians — the civilians are asked to make their own lives more difficult just in order to make potential hackers’ lives more difficult. And in aggregate, the amount of aggravation spent setting up and typing in passwords on cellphones will surely exceed the amount of aggravation caused by hacked voicemails.

A better solution is to get off antiquated mobile-phone voicemail systems entirely. Most of them are designed to rack up airtime minutes, and even the iPhone’s revolutionary visual voicemail system lacks basic modern features like voice-to-text transcription — something which comes in extremely useful when the number calling you isn’t in your address book and you therefore have no idea who it is. My own iPhone voicemail has 37 messages I’ve never listened to, which I daresay is not uncommon.

I don’t think that journalists or anybody else is likely to get much juicy information by hacking into voicemails these days: people don’t leave juicy information in voicemails, just because they know there’s a good chance the voicemail will never actually be listened to. But if for some reason you still like or use voicemail, then I can recommend moving to Google Voice, which keeps all your voicemails in one place, sends you emails with sometimes-adequate transcriptions, and is pretty much impossible to hack unless the hacker has your email password. In which case you’ve got much bigger problems than a hacked voicemail account.

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