News of the World hackers, hacked ATMs and celeb snooping

news of the worldNews of the World private investigator Glenn Mulcaire was this week revealed to have gone to extraordinary lengths to hide his illegal tapping of celebrities’ voicemails: hacking an ATM to use its phone line.

I covered the story here for Infosecurity Magazine but thought it was worth including some extra comments.

Mulcaire’s cover was finally blow when BT sent a bill for the landline to the ATM owner, who forwarded it to the convenience store in which it was located, in a scruffy part of south London.

Sophos senior security advisor, Paul Ducklin, explained to me that Mulcaire probably chose an ATM line rather than tapping a copper phone line via other means, for several reasons.

“1. Unlike a fax machine the line never plays through a speaker for feedback purposes. Fax machines usually play their modem noises for a few seconds as part of the ‘user interface’.

2. If you interrupt a data transmission, the system will probably sort itself out automatically later on and no-one will realise that it was deliberate, rather than just a glitch. And you’ll hear the modem trying to come on-line, so you can hang up temporarily to get out of the way.

3. It’s likely to be a rented service that bundles in the phone line, so the bills probably go through a convoluted route to the person where the line is actually installed, making detection more complex – as happened here.”

He stressed the important of business owners checking their phone statements, just as one should bank statements or those belonging to online accounts, for any signs of suspicious activity.

“Cybercriminality usually leaves traces, and the one thing you can be sure of if you don’t make a habit of looking for those traces is that you won’t find them,” Ducklin told me.

“In various recent high-profile credit card breach cases, the afflicted retailer found out because someone outside the organisation noticed suspicious patterns of fraud. Best not to wait until someone else finds out before you do.”