So, The News of the World has plumbed new depths of depravity by hacking into the phone messages of grief-stricken relatives of victims of the 7th July terrorism attacks in London. This news comes just days after we discovered that they also listened to – and deleted some – messages on the phone of murder victim Milly Dowler. And there was the revelation that the families of murdered Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman had also probably been hacked by the “newspaper”. Tabloid journalism has never had a good name; now it doesn’t even deserve being called journalism. Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to listen to the phone messages of people in grief? Who thought it would be a good idea to delete messages from the phone of (at that stage) a missing girl, when those very messages could actually have helped the police? Who thought it was a good idea to hack into mobile phones in the first place?
Well, it seems that many people responsible are saying they are appalled but did not know it was happening. Well, that suggests that these editors do not even read their own newspapers because how else did the information they were printing get there in the first place? Where were the questions in editorial meetings asking “where did you get that?”. Either the questions were not asked – in which case none of the editors have a required skill for their role – or they were asked and they simply ignored the answers, in which as they should not even be in their jobs now.
And where is Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the News of the World? Well, by not immediately sacking everyone involved he is condoning their actions. Sure, his lawyers may be saying he can’t do that because of claims against unfair dismissal. But he has enough cash in the bank to pay compensation in the extraordinarily unlikely event that a tribunal would think that any of the people involved deserved a second chance.
But there is one question yet to be asked. Why are the mobile phone companies so quiet on the issue?
Here’s why; they know that ultimately it is their fault. The reason that your phone can be hacked into, the reason that a premier league footaballer’s phone can be hacked into and the reason why a murder victim’s phone can be spied on is because all of them have the same security code. I know your security code for your phone, because it is almost certainly the same as mine. Unless either of us has changed it, we can simply dial into our respective voicemail systems, enter the code and hear the messages.
When mobile phones are issued they have a security code – and yes, the instruction book advises you to change it. Most people don’t even read the manual, so they don’t see the instructions to change the codes.
Here’s what should happen; the mobile phone companies should make phones that cannot be used until a new security code has been set. And for existing phones, we should get a text message saying that our phone will be for emergency use only until we change the codes.
The reason why grief stricken families can have their phone messages listened to is ultimately down to the failure of the mobile phone companies to set up adequate security systems in the first place. The News of the World was callously taking advantage of that failure. And yes, it is a failure, because it is a completely obvious problem in the first place. Not only should the News of the World be contrite today, but the mobile phone companies should also be hanging their heads in shame.
And so too should website companies. The chances are that many of the services you use are populated in advance with “Username:admin, Password: password”. Few people change it, making hacking into your website systems fairly straightforward, even for a five year old child. What should web companies do? Rather like mobile phone companies the services should ONLY work if you DO NOT use the words “admin” and “password”. When you set up a WordPress blog, for instance, it defaults to “admin” – meaning we can easily hack into the tens of millions of WordPress websites that have not changed their settings. WordPress can argue – like the mobile phone companies do – that we are told we should change things, it’s our fault if we don’t. Tosh. Systems should be set up without any kind of default, only operable once we have put in place necessary specific and individual passwords and codes.
So, if you do nothing else as a result of this News of the World scandal – change your website security settings. Most people use the default settings on the web, as they do on mobile phones, and that means hacking is easy peasy.
But there are some other things I would like you to do as well:
- If you normally buy the News of the World – stop, buy an alternative
- If you sell the News of the World – refuse to stock it any more
- If you advertise in the News of the World – remove your ads, there are plenty of other ways to get customers
Oh – and if you want more people to do this all you need to do is send out Tweets suggesting the same. I am angry that the News of the World has caused so much distress – and brought the legitimate world of journalism into disrepute. I think they deserve as much anger as we can throw at them. And if that hurts the Murdoch empire’s bank balance, so much the better.
- Why I’m boycotting the News of the World (for last decade) (morganpr.co.uk)
- Phone hacking scandal: a timeline of events (mirror.co.uk)
- How to Keep Your Blog Hacker, Spammer, and Spyware-free (problogger.net)
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+