One thing that’s not being asked in this phone hacking scandal, is how did the hackers get into people’s voicemail? Is it some technically complex technique involving getting into the computer systems of the mobile phone network?
Largely, no. Much of the time people are accessing the mailbox in the same way a user can. When we get a new mobile phone account the voice mail is programmed to a default setting, including a default password with which you can “manage” your voicemail from a landline. A lot of the time voicemails were intercepted by journalists and investigators trying their luck with default and guessable passwords. It’s probably not the only way voicemails can be access, but it’s by far the easiest one.
The blame for the hacking, of course, lies firmly with the private investigators and journalists that accessed the phones, and the editors who either condoned the techniques or accepted stories with dubious sources without asking sensible questions. But there are ways that people can minimise the risk. Simple ways.
The message here is: set the pin on your mobile phone. Don’t rely on being to boring for anyone to take an interest in, you never know how things may turn out. Don’t rely on the media turning over a new leaf either, there will probably always be someone devious enough to try this trick on you.
A couple of weeks back Professor David Nutt, an advisor on the subject of drugs, was in the media because some things he said contradicted the government’s position on the reclassification of cannabis.
Soon after Alan Johnson sacked Professor Nutt claiming that he had campaigned against government policy.
I thought there was something fishy about this, it didn’t seem to me like the statements were campaigning, even with the media leaping on them in the way they did. But with work and family I didn’t have time to look beyond the headlines. Turns out my feeling was right. Dr Evan Harris, (the Lib Dem MP for Oxford West) covers this in his blog, systematically taking apart the sacking and then Alan Johnson’s response to criticism.
I’m not sure whether the campaigning line, that Johnson is still sticking to is his own misunderstanding of the situation, or whether it is an interpretation that he keeps restating in the hope people believe it.