1996-10-03 - British Labour leader’s pager messages intercepted

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From: “Nicolas J. Hammond” <njhm@ns.njh.com>
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: dc97a596a0ed2383353eeac7c6d4b2452d4a8973cc088fb66ed60085a3d4a35f
Message ID: <199610031458.KAA07791@ns.njh.com>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1996-10-03 20:12:39 UTC
Raw Date: Fri, 4 Oct 1996 04:12:39 +0800

Raw message

From: "Nicolas J. Hammond" <njhm@ns.njh.com>
Date: Fri, 4 Oct 1996 04:12:39 +0800
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: British Labour leader's pager messages intercepted
Message-ID: <199610031458.KAA07791@ns.njh.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

The following article appears in the Electronic Telegraph today (Oct 3)

TWO sensitive messages detailing Tony Blair's movements are among a list
of electronic pager notes about the Labour leader and members of the
shadow cabinet intercepted by hackers.

 The list of messages, which
 was shown to The Daily Telegraph, had been read by equipment freely
 available on the Internet for as little as £200. Further investigations
 by the Telegraph show that the vulnerability of pagers could expose
 nearly a million users to blackmail over sexual liaisons, for example,
 as well as robbery, commercial espionage and terrorist attack.

 Blair messages were almost certainly sent to Alastair Campbell, his
 press secretary, and Tim Allan, Campbell's deputy. Many of them give a
 fascinating insight into how Mr Blair and the spin doctors who surround
 him make determined efforts to present Labour favourably in the

 The intercepts for Sept 14 show how the Labour leader's
 office was bombarded with anxious messages about a front page report in
 the Sunday Times newspaper headlined: "Blair aide tells Labour to
 forget about socialism".

 The transcripts also show how Peter
 Mandelson, one of Mr Blair's closest aides, closely monitors BBC news
 reports. On Sept 16 he sent a message to the leader's office saying
 that a report by one of the BBC's political correspondents, Jon Sopel,
 referred strongly to the strained links between the Labour leadership
 and the unions which had dominated the previous week's TUC

 After Mr Blair made a speech to the City of London, a
 message from Hilary Coffman, one of his press aides, anticipated the
 reaction of the newspapers, saying that most papers, except the
 Telegraph and Independent had reported favourably. In fact, the
 Telegraph's headline on the story was: "Blair's
 good times pledge" above a story saying that he was committed to
 rising living standards and prosperity.

 One of the most intriguing
 messages Campbell received from Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair's chief of
 staff, said: "Pls call when you and TB are free. I have a message from
 Mrs T. - Jonathan." Jonathan Powell is the younger brother of Sir
 Charles Powell, who was Lady Thatcher's private secretary at 10 Downing

 <blockquote><h4>Scotland Yard said this was the first time
 it had heard that pager messages could be

 Around the time of the call Mr Blair's
office was making a determined effort to scotch reports, allegedly
attributed to Tory spin doctors, that Lady Thatcher found the Labour
leader "creepy". Labour spin doctors were later involved in passing on a
message from Lady Thatcher countering the reports and making clear that
she still "rather admired" Mr Blair's determination to modernise his

 The police, the Home Office and the Department of Trade and
 Industry expressed surprise at the latest telecommunications tapping
 and said that they would investigate if pager-hacking becomes

 "It is an offence under the Wireless Telegraphy and
 Interception of Communications Acts for anyone to receive messages not
 intended for them," a DTI spokesman said. "However, it is not an
 offence to own the equipment, so we need to catch perpetrators in the

 Scotland Yard said this was the first time it had heard that
 pager messages could be intercepted. The Federation of Communications
 Services has called for the legislation to be changed, making illegal
 the selling or ownership of radio scanners - a market worth an
 estimated £200 million a year to the telecommunications industry.

 investigation published today in What Cellphone explains how hackers
 have used a radio scanner coupled to a cheap electronic decoder and a
 computer running freely available software to receive other people's
 pager messages from anywhere in the country. It is not an offence to
 own either a scanner - they are used by yachtsmen to monitor weather
 forecasts - or the electronic decoder, which is advertised on the
 Internet as a home automation device.

 It is the marrying of radio
 and computer technology that makes pager hacking more of a threat to
 businesses and individuals than eavesdropping on cellphones. If the
 scanner is left connected to a computer, a log of every pager message
 sent by anyone in the country can easily be recorded. This log can then
 be used in a common word processor program and searched for key words,
 such as the names of politicians, celebrities or companies. Details of
 how hackers can send false messages has appeared on the Internet in the
 past few days.

 <blockquote><h4> Other messages seen include
arrangements for sexual liaisons and details of fruit machines that are

 "Hacking into pagers is very easily
 done by anyone with some DIY experience and potentially much more
 damaging than listening in on cellphone calls," said Bob Tomalski,
 editor of What Cellphone. "With cellphones, hackers have to listen to
 the messages as they happen. With pagers they can record a day's
 messages and search through them later."

 Once a message has been
 linked to a particular caller, the software can be set up to search
 specifically for that pager's identification code, which appears at the
 beginning of each pager message. Retail chains use the pager system to
 send details of each store's takings to head office. Messages seen by
 the Telegraph range from "Yesterday takings £659, see you in pub in 10
 minutes" to the precise breakdown of the sales of a big supermarket

 Other messages seen include arrangements for sexual liaisons
 and details of fruit machines that are malfunctioning and paying out
 big amounts in pubs. Of particular concern is the revelation that
 hackers have intercepted passwords used to switch off alarm systems
 sent to security guards via the pager network.

 For years, analogue
 cellphones have been known to be vulnerable, culminating in the
 publication of conversations between members of the Royal Family. 
 But despite
 concerns about the vulnerability of mobile phones, little attention has
 been paid to pagers, which are much easier to tap.

 Mobile telephones
 use several thousand radio frequencies and have a limited range, so the
 eavesdropper must be near the cellphone receiving the call and have
 technical knowledge to track the call. Pagers by contrast, receive
 easily decoded analogue signals based on 25-year-old technology and
 transmitted on only 10 - published - frequencies.

 Because the
 networks do not know where each pager is located, each message is
 beamed across the country, so that a hacker can receive messages
 destined for any of the 900,000 pager users from Penzance to

Nicolas Hammond                                 NJH Security Consulting, Inc.
njhm@njh.com                                    211 East Wesley Road
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