The News of the World, the British tabloid tasked with reporting the news of the world, closed its doors this weekend, in the outfall of a massive phone hacking scandal. Investigators working for the paper are alleged to have hacked into the voicemail boxes of various figures, recording, manipulating and deleting messages, all in the course of gathering the world's news. People who have suffered these intrusions include politicians, British celebrities, real celebrities and most damningly, the victims of crimes. Editors have been arrested, the public has shat and in an attempt to control the scandal, Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the paper, decided to pull the plug on it, depriving the world from its only source of news.
And its only source of Hannah Montana stickers.
As the dust from this refuses to settle, the great thinkers are debating what this says about Murdoch's media empire and our culture as a whole. Was this a rogue case, or a symptom of a deeper problem? Are journalistic standards still relevant in a world where there's an audience for the results of this kind of investigative research? Should we, as a society, begin self-sterilization immediately, or merely soon?
Meanwhile, the readers of Cracked are thinking, This voicemail hacking actually sounds kind of fun. Can Cracked use this incident to teach us something that will further speed society's turn into the ditch?
Yes, yes we can.
So, out of a desire to get some pageviews, and to create a world capable of gathering its own news, I've published the following guide on how to hack into anyone's voicemail system. I'm trusting you guys to use this only on unliked celebrities or unsympathetic victims of crimes. If Ben Affleck gets bitten by a dog is what I'm thinking.
To illustrate this article, I will be hacking in to the voicemail of the famous Food Network chef Rachel Ray. While conducting research for a book I'm writing, How to Creep On the Stars of the Food Network, I ended up leaving 28 messages on her voicemail system. The content of these messages are both troubling and deeply erotic, and I've since decided they should remain a private matter best heard only by me and my fevered brain. The deletion of these voicemails will be the goal of the remainder of this column.
Oh Rachel. I meant everything I said, but no court must ever know what specifically that was.
The simplest and often most effective technique to hack into someone's voicemail system is to simply guess their PIN. The default PINs assigned to each voicemail box are the best places to start -- due to sloping foreheads and the time constraints of today's busy eating-lifestyles, many users don't reset the default PINs. Simple PINs like 1111, 1234 are also good guesses, as are the last four digits of your target's phone number. If you have access to your target's naked body, check them carefully for any tattoos of four digit numbers.
Using the phone number for Ms. Ray which I obtained earlier through treachery, I logged into the AT&T voicemail service and attempted to log in to her voicemail box using all the obvious PIN numbers. None of them worked, so I then tried 3866, or EVOO, which is the word Rachel Ray made up to describe olive oil because of this thing with how her brain works. That also didn't work, but it made me feel like I was getting inside her mind a bit, which was a harrowing experience. I had uncovered one of the first dangers of hacking -- getting in too deep.
Social engineering is the term for tricking someone into providing access to a secure system. Computer nerds came up with the term because they imagined it to be like hacking a person's brain, except instead of a person it's a low level customer support person, and instead of a brain, it's a mushy cellular mass which is incapable of giving a fuck.
In the case of hacking into someone's voicemail, this is as simple as calling customer support and asking to reset the PIN of your target's voicemail box. By claiming to be your target, and that you've forgotten her PIN, and the answer to her secret question, and then crying a bit, you get the weary, underpaid CSR to relent and reset the PIN.
I called AT&T customer support, and after waiting on hold for several weeks, I finally got through to a CSR. I then tried to navigate through the steps necessary to reset her voicemail PIN, an act which required pretending to be Rachel Ray herself ...
"No of course this is my real voice. No one could talk like that all the time."
I can report that her personal question is: "What was the name of your first pet?" and the answers are not "Puppietabulous," "Ham" or "Mr. Noodles." Even failing that hurdle I was still offered the opportunity to reset the PIN if I could answer with her birth date (easily available online) and by providing her address. I tripped on that obstacle as well, but can report that her address is not "1111 Mr. Noodles Drive" and that there is indeed a limit to an AT&T CSR's patience.
Just Stand Really Close
If you know where your target likes to speak on the phone, you could simply try standing very close to that spot while they're using their phone, so you can see them enter their PIN.
Keep in mind that if your target is a busy celebrity, who does a lot of walking and talking, you'll have to consider a way to surreptitiously keep pace with them.
So I was trying this last week, by rollerblading directly behind Rachel Ray for about three hours. She never did actually check her voicemail in that time, although I did overhear an awful lot of her phone conversations. As will you, if the recordings of her increasingly frantic 911 calls about my manic roller-stalking are ever released to the courts.
There's always the possibility of doing "real" computer hacking on the voicemail system. To do this, you'll need a mainframe, and a GUI, and a BIOS and eight keyboards, and a T1 line and some other things. Get all those things, put them in a heap in the middle of your living room, and then call the Geek Squad, who should be able to help you with the rest.
Example:Fuck Best Buy. That's all I have to say about that. That's all anyone ever needs to say about anything.
That tree there was still alive until this Best Buy was built.
All right, I'll elaborate. It seems those up-selling pencil-necks have both a lack of genuine technical know-how and an unwavering ethical commitment that prevents them from doing anything as simple as hacking into Rachel Ray's voicemail. "Stop crying! I won't hurt you if you stop crying!" I screamed at their pale faces. "But I will surely whip your short-pantsed asses to death if she hears those awful sexy things that I said."
By replacing your target's phone with a duplicate, you can record them entering their PIN and then divert them to a dummy mailbox which doesn't contain any voicemails of you promising to make them happy. To do this, you'll need excellent sleight-of-hand skills as well as an exact copy of your target's phone (many phone manufacturers make large quantities of nearly identical phones these days).
This didn't work well at all. Because of her job and all the candies she has on her person at all times, Rachel Ray's hands are incredibly sticky, as is everything she owns. After removing my roller blades, waiting several weeks, I disguised myself as a trustworthy member of society ...
"That's right, I am a doctor. Doctor ...... Pepper. ....... Dammit Bucholz.
... and then followed Ms. Ray at a distance for several hours. Unfortunately, the entire time her phone was stuck to her neck, and my up-close magic skills simply weren't proficient enough, nor the solvents I routinely carry powerful enough to separate the phone from her.
With an Axe
A simple steel-headed fire axe is capable of hacking into many things, like the side door of the AT&T data center off 4th and Elm, as well as the objections of the wan folk who dwell within, and even the case of the servers which house the hard drive containing your target's voicemail messages. This is hacking in its most prototypical sense, and will make you feel like a bigger person, and also a bit, ironically enough, like a dwarf.
"Dwarf dwarf dwarf dwarf. Dwarf dwarf dwarf. Axe!"
Things went really according to plan here, almost suspiciously so. It turned out that that's pretty ordinary, because a man with an axe and a plan is a hell of a force in today's society where so few wear armor. But the plan kind of petered out after the hard drives were sundered, and while deciding what to do next, the police showed up, angry. Conventional police tactics tend to overwhelm a man with an axe in a frontal attack, so I made a brave retreat. But, after a series of successful hacks through bushes, a chain link fence and a Wal-Mart, I was apprehended. Fortunately for me, they didn't find the second, auxiliary axe taped to my inner thigh, and while they were busy dealing with the small riot that had broken out in the aftermath of my hacking, I was able to hack my way out of my cuffs and the police car.
Be sure to tune in to Bucholz's column next week: How to Hack Your Way Across Three States, a Mexican Border Town, and Into a Whole New Life. (Alternate Title: Identity Theft: How to Hack Your Way to a New Face)
And check out more from Bucholz in Justin Bieber's Favorite Knife Fighting Techniques and An Interview With James Cameron's Avatar About 'Avatar'.