Yesterday’s blog on tabloids hacking phones in Ireland created quite a stir.
In the late afternoon on the way to discuss it on Newstalk radio I received a telephone call from the editor of a red top newspaper challenging my point of view about British tabloids and the practices some of them engage in.
During his rant, I posed the question, “Had he ever hacked a phone? Had his staff ever hacked into a mobile phone and listened to a person’s message?”
His response was, "Don’t be so ridiculous!" and he underlined that neither he nor his staff engaged in such activity.”
I was delighted to learn of this. I then asked if he would consider the editors’ charter, to which he went all shy.
I wonder if it was because he was aware of this interesting article published in The Irish Mirror 18th April 1998?
MIRROR TAPS BERTIE'S MOBILE; We listen to his message in Cabinet phone scandal.
GOVERNMENT phones can be tapped by any member of the public, The Irish Mirror can reveal today.
Phones in every Government Department can easily be monitored by anyone with a phone of their own.
A technological loophole means that eavesdroppers can listen into communication from top Ministers.
Yesterday, the Irish Mirror was able to listen to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern requesting his advisers for a "GAA speech" for a function tonight.
We also tuned in on messages from Cabinet Ministers, including ones from sensitive Departments such as Justice
Ironically, one of the messages we were able to monitor was from a senior Department of Justice official concerned the revelation that RTE journalists were being spied upon.
The phone tap can be operated by anyone who knows the number of the mobile phone they wish to listen in to.
In a hugely embarrassing breach of Government security we discovered that nearly all of the Fianna Fail Ministers and their huge teams of advisers have not changed the security passwords on their mobile phones.
All Eircell mobile phones start off with the same factory setting password for their electronic mailbox answering machine when they are sold.
Customers are advised to change the password as soon as they begin using the phone.
But tens of thousands of mobile phone users all over the country never change their security code.
That means that anyone can listen in to another person's messages by simply phoning into the their electronic mailbox and dialling the digits 'OOOO'.
For six digit `087' numbers, amateur hackers simply place the digit '7' after the prefix
and dial as normal to go directly into the mailbox.
With the new seven digit numbers, the `spy' adds `1' onto the first digit of the phone number. Therefore if the phone number is usually 087 2345678, they dial 087 3345678.
One there they press the pounds "hash" button when they hear the phone owner's message and then dial the factory setting password of `0000' followed again by the 'hash' button, which is underneath the `9' key on most phones.
Once they have done this the hacker has unlimited access to all the messages.
Yesterday, the Irish Mirror was able to covertly monitor communications from EVERY Government Department.
Last night a Government spokesman, when told of the Irish Mirror expose, immediately announced they would be issuing a circular to all Government departments to tighten phone security.
Paul Allen is a PR consultant and writer in Dublin