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NotW Hacked Milly Dowler’s Voicemail

Jul
05

Pressure on the News of the World over phone-hacking allegations intensified still further on Tuesday after allegations surfaced that journalists at the paper intercepted the voicemail messages of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

Hacks working for the NoTW allegedly deleted voicemail messages sent to Dowler at the time she went missing in March 2002, interfering with police inquiries into her disappearance in the process. The deletion of phone messages, an action apparently taken to free up space for extra messages, gave her family false hope that she might be alive in addition to hampering a police investigation, The Guardian reports.

Police would be interested in preserving voicemail messages to murder victims not least because of the possibility that the murderer themselves might leave a message in an attempt to cover their tracks.

Scotland Yard is investigating the allegations as part of its re-opened inquiry into phone hacking by the paper. Previously these allegations have largely centred on charges that hacks at the paper used private investigators to hack into the voicemail messages of celebrities and public figures in a hunt for gossip.

The Dowler hack allegations are, to put it mildly, far more serious and are likely to place renewed pressure on senior managers at the paper at the time including then-editor of the paper, Rebekah Brooks, now Rupert Murdoch’s chief executive in the UK. Her deputy at the time, Andy Coulson, resigned as the prime minister’s media adviser in January at the same time police re-opened an investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World. Brooks ran a controversial name-and-shame child abusers campaign during her stint editing the paper.

In the days after Milly’s abduction, the Dowler family spoke of their hope that their daughter might still be alive in an exclusive interview with the News of the World.

The Dowlers’ family lawyer, Mark Lewis, described the News of the World‘s alleged activities as “heinous” and “despicable”. The family intends to sue the paper for damages.

Dowler, 13, was abducted on her way home to Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, on 21 March 2002. Police initially thought that she might have run away from home. The deletion of mobile family messages gave substance to this suggestion and served to cloud the picture about what happened to her in the crucial first few days after she was abducted. Levi Bellfield, 43, was jailed for life for murdering Dowler last month. Former bouncer Bellfield was previously convicted of murdering two other young women, Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange: both crimes happened in the two years after Dowler’s murder.

Evidence that News of the World hacks may have intercepted and deleted messages sent to Dowler comes from a collection of notes kept by Glenn Mulcaire, the disgraced PI jailed for hacking into the voicemail messages of royal aides at the behest of the News of the World.

The paper made little attempt to hide its activities at the time of Milly’s abduction. For example, it ran a story in early April that year about a woman allegedly pretending to be Dowler who left her number as a point of contact when she applied for a job with a recruitment agency. Police at the time realised that tabloid hacks must have had access to Dowler’s voicemail in sourcing the story but saw it as an isolated incident and decided to do nothing, The Guardian reports.

In a statement over the latest mobile phone hacking allegation, News International (which publishes the NotW) said: “We have been co-operating fully with Operation Weeting since our voluntary disclosure in January restarted the investigation into illegal voicemail interception. This particular case is clearly a development of great concern and we will be conducting our own inquiry as a result.”

SOURCE

Cellphone Snooping Now Easier & Cheaper

Jan
21

Cryptographers have devised a low-cost way to intercept phone calls and text messages sent over the majority of the world’s mobile networks.

The attack, which requires four $15 Motorola handsets, a medium-end computer and a 2TB hard drive, was demonstrated last week at the 27th annual Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin. It builds off of last year’s crack of the A5/1 encryption algorithm used to protect communications sent using GSM, or Global System for Mobile Communications, technology, which carries an estimated 80 percent of the world’s mobile traffic.

The method, cooked up by researchers Karsten Nohl and Sylvain Manaut, is a significant improvement over previous techniques, which required two USRP2 receivers and software to rapidly change radio frequencies over a spectrum of 80 channels. Equipment costs of the new attack are about $650, compared with more than $4,000 using the previous method.

“GSM is as insecure as Wi-Fi was ten years ago,” Nohl, who is chief scientist at Berlin-based Security Research Labs, told The Register. “It will be attacked by the same ‘war-driving’ script kiddies soon. Any discussion over whether the attacks available in the community are incomplete or impractical should have been put to rest with the last demonstration so that we can now start discussing how to fix the networks.”

Nohl, a cryptographer who has identified gaping holes in smart cards, cordless phones and car immobilizers designed to thwart auto thieves, was alluding to comments last year from the GSM Alliance, which claimed eavesdropping on GSM communications wasn’t practical.

Nohl has long nudged mobile operators to adopt the significantly more secure A5/3 algorithm, which still isn’t widely deployed – presumably because of the cost of upgrading a huge amount of equipment that’s already in place. He also counsels them to take several “low-hanging fruit” measures. One fix involves restricting access to the HLR, or Home Location Register, which is the database that keeps track of a handset’s location on a carrier’s network. Another suggestion is for operators to randomize message padding when encrypting communications.

GSM is the most widely used mobile phone technology. It connects more than 5 billion phones, according to the GSMA. In the US, it’s used by AT&T and T-Mobile. It’s used by all major carriers in the UK.

The revised attack uses home-brewed firmware to turn the Motorola phones into wire-tapping devices that pull conversations and text messages off of a carrier’s base station. They are connected to a PC that has access to a 2TB rainbow table used to decrypt messages protected by the decades-old A5/1 algorithm. H-online.com and Wired.com have more technical details here and here. Slides from the presentation are here.

Chinese crack down on ‘money-sucker’ Androids

Jan
14

The Chinese government is to crack down on “money sucking” mobiles: Android-based handsets that subsidise themselves by stealing from the customer’s account.

The crackdown aims to involve network operators, target retailers and ensure that selling handsets featuring pre-installed Trojans is explicitly illegal, according to the Google translation.

The idea is to set up a central unit to manage complaints, though it seems the scam has been going on long enough to build up considerable momentum.

The handsets concerned are sold cheaply, and generally unbranded, though some bear forged logos. Once they go into use the Android-based handsets start quietly sending text messages, or making a silent call or two. The transactions only incur a fee of about around 20 pence a time, in the hope the user will never notice, while the miscreant collects the termination fee or other premium charge. (more…)

Cellphone tower data protected by US Constitution

Jan
12

A federal judge has ruled that subscriber data captured from cellphone towers is protected by the US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantee against illegal searches and seizures.

The decision is part of a sea change from half a decade worth of previous rulings, in which police weren’t required to obtain search warrants based on probable cause before accessing the subscriber information. US Magistrate Judge Stephen Wm Smith of the Southern District of Texas said recent changes in case law and rapidly evolving mobile technology required a departure from the outcomes in that long line of cases.

“In 1789 it was inconceivable that every peripatetic step of a citizen’s life could be monitored, recorded, and revealed to the government,” he wrote in a decision that was released late last month but only noticed in the last few days. “For a cell phone user born in 1984, however, it is conceivable that every movement of his adult life can be imperceptibly captured, compiled, and retrieved from a digital dossier somewhere in a computer cloud. Now as then, the Fourth Amendment remains our polestar.”

The ruling – which seemed to make reference to the year the Constitution went into effect and the George Orwell novel – is a huge victory for privacy advocates, who have long argued that historical cell-site information gives the government the ability to track users’ location each time they make a call or send a text message. In this case, however, it would appear the government was seeking to electronically surveil targets “whether the phone was in active use or not,” Smith said.

The government’s request for permission to capture 60 days worth of tower data didn’t sit well with the judge, who likened the electronic record to “a continuous reality TV show, exposing two months’ worth of a person’s movements, activities, and associations in relentless detail.”

The decision follows August’s landmark decision in which a federal appeals court bashed warrantless GPS surveillance, ruling FBI agents should have obtained a search warrant before planting a GPS device on the vehicle of a suspected drug dealer. A few weeks later, a federal judge in New York ruled cell-tower data was also protected by the Fourth Amendment, rebuffing investigators who said there was no reasonable expectation such data is private.

The American Civil Liberties Union, hailed Smith’s decision.

“The court reached this conclusion both because cell tracking reveals information about constitutionally protected spaces such as the home, and because the prolonged nature of such surveillance is very invasive,” Catherine Crump, of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, blogged.

A PDF of Smith’s ruling is here ®

Cell Phone Search Needs No Warrant – California

Jan
12

California’s high court said police don’t need a warrant to read text messages stored on the cell phones of people taken into custody.

Monday’s 5-2 decision (PDF) relied on separate decisions from the 1970s by the US Supreme Court that upheld warrantless searches of cigarette packs and clothing taken from suspects after they were arrested.

Cell phones are no different, California Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin wrote for the majority in Monday’s decision. They went on to uphold an appeals court decision that the retrieval of an incriminating text message from a drug suspect’s handset didn’t violate the US Constitution’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The ruling came in the case of Gregory Diaz, who was arrested in 2007 for conspiracy to sell Ecstasy. Officers who confiscated his phone found a message that read “6 4 $80,” which was interpreted to mean the defendant would sell six pills for $80.

In a dissenting opinion, two associate justices said cell phones should be treated differently than other personal effects confiscated from a suspect because they’re capable of storing so much more information.

“A contemporary smartphone can hold hundreds or thousands of messages, photographs, videos, maps, contacts, financial records, memoranda and other documents, as well as records of the user‟s telephone calls and Web browsing,” Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote in the dissent. “Never before has it been possible to carry so much personal or business information in one’s pocket or purse. The potential impairment to privacy if arrestees’ mobile phones and handheld computers are treated like clothing or cigarette packages, fully searchable without probable cause or a warrant, is correspondingly great.”

The warrantless seizure of cell phones has already been heard by other courts with varying outcomes, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. The split may prompt the US Supreme Court to take up the issue. ®