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You With The Smart Phone -- Can I Get Your Number?

by John Asante
Jul 7, 2010

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In the age of "doing everything over the Internet," we rely on websites to protect our information — our social security numbers, credit card numbers, etc. — when we pay bills or purchase items. As secure as these sites may seem, hackers have ways of bypassing password protected areas and stealing our identities.

But what if our phones were hacked? What would a hacker do? Leave annoying messages? Send an absurd amount of text messages? Distribute your number to other people?

Ok, so those are a few scenarios. Nothing too threatening — yet. But really, what's the worst a hacker could do with a set of 10 digits you give out on a daily or weekly basis? Well, if you give yours to Nick DePetrillo and Don Bailey — two security researchers who've created a phone hacking program for educational purposes — you're in for a surprise. If you own a smart phone, as they tell the Los Angeles Times, the stakes are higher:

" ... they can easily determine your name by taking advantage of a vulnerability in the Caller ID system. Using special software, they can "spoof" a call — that is, make a call that appears to the phone company as though it's coming from your number. They can then call themselves using your number and watch as their Caller ID device lights up with your name."

But wait — there's more:

Once DePetrillo and Bailey have figured out that your name is the one associated with your number, they can query the cellular network to see where your phone is at that moment. After enough time, this bit of digital spycraft will yield a fairly clear picture of where you go and when.

From texts to your social security number, almost any personal information is up for grabs. Add the innovation of apps (especially the ones where personal information is submitted) and smart phones become a hotbed for gathering information. For a look at a similar "white hat" hacking program, check out TXSBBSPY.

Pretty scary, eh? RIM, the makers of the coveted BlackBerry, and the Internet behemoth Google have been working on placing defense mechanisms inside their products to figure out the legitimacy of an app. Still, when it comes to security on mobile devices, we're a few decades behind matching the defense mechanisms established on computers. In the meantime, experts say that common sense is our best bet. As the adage goes, "the best offense is a good defense."

 

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