Hacking into celebrity cell phones

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

The News of The World, a tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, has allegedly been hacking into thousands of celebrity cell phones. Anchor Jeb Sharp speaks with The World's Technology Correspondent Clark Boyd to find out how this sort of hacking is done.

JEB SHARP: I'm Jeb Sharp, this is the World. Cell phones are at the center of a brewing media scandal in Britain. The News of The World, a tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, has allegedly been hacking into thousands of celebrity cell phones. The claims have been made by London's Guardian newspaper. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, singer George Michael, even London's mayor, Boris Johnson, are said to be on the list of victims. The scandal is generating a lot of press on both sides of the Atlantic. We wondered how this sort of hacking is done. Our technology correspondent Clark Boyd joins me here in the studio. So Clark, you wanna get into my cell phone, get my phone messages, how do you do it?

CLARK BOYD: Well, I could just, first of all, do something like steal your cell phone. [LAUGHS] That would be one of the easiest ways to do it. Of course, that's not really what you would consider hacking. Another thing I could do is more complicated and more costly, and gets into lots of gray legal territory, and that would be to wire tap, to actually intercept your phone calls. The other thing I could do is approach the cell phone provider, the company that provides your cell phone service, and somehow strike some kind of deal with them to get your messages, or intercept those phone calls.

JEB SHARP: And which of those is it in this case?

CLARK BOYD: Well Jeb, people are calling this hacking, but it's really a case of hacking. And I think the best way I've heard it described so far is, by a private investigator named Ian Withers. And he's the former head of the world association of private investigators. Here's a little clip.

IAN WITHERS: What we're talking about here is people that are phoning a mobile number, and getting through to the message desk, the voicemail. And where those people have not put their own pin number in, they're able to access on the standard default pin number, the messages that have been left. That in effect is what has been happening.

JEB SHARP: And we should point out Clark, that it's the allegation is that people like him have been doing this.


JEB SHARP: (OVERLAPPING) They're private investigators.

CLARK BOYD: (OVERLAPPING) Exactly, that the news of the world has private investigators who have been calling celebrities, keeping them on the line. And then somebody else calls that cell phone number of the celebrity, goes into their voicemail, and because the celebrity or whoever hasn't changed that pin number to get into that voicemail, they put in the default that's give out by the provider, and they're in there listening to celebrity cell phone messages.

JEB SHARP: So, the lesson is go change your pin code, is it that simple?

CLARK BOYD: [LAUGHS] Yes, absolutely.

JEB SHARP: So just to be clear, when I get my voicemail on my phone right now, I don't even put in a pin. So what's the best way to change your pin?

CLARK BOYD: Well, depends on your service provider, but I would either contact them by phone, or go up on their website and they will walk you through the steps that you need to take, to actually change that access code for your voicemail. That would be the easiest way to do it.

JEB SHARP: The World's technology correspondent, Clark Boyd, thanks so much.

CLARK BOYD: You're welcome Jeb.