2011 Reg roundup: Hacking hacks, spying apps and an end to Einstein?

Smartphones, privacy and a year of tears


Part Two As mobile sales and connections continued to soar and break records, just how much your phone knows about you and who can see that information were big subjects in 2011.

The long-smouldering issue in the UK of newspaper journos paying private investigators to break into mobile voicemail inboxes in search of scoops finally exploded.

The idea of PIs working for News International hacking into voicemails of people in the public eye had already been investigated. In 2011, however, it was the story that the News of the World had hacked into the voicemail of a murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, that caused a storm. Other claims followed: that the voicemails of relatives of deceased British soldiers, and victims of the 7/7 London bomb attacks, had also been heard. Suddenly it was no longer the rich and famous who were victims. Now it was ordinary people.

Rupert and James Murdoch

The Murdochs appeared before a Parliamentary committee

PM David Cameron launched an inquiry headed by Lord Justice Leveson into phone hacking and the subject of police bribery by the media - a televised affair that has seen and heard from alleged hacking victims who came forward to tell their stories. Cameron's director of communications Andy Coulson, who had also served as a NotW editor, was also forced to resign and was arrested. He's now suing NotW's publisher, News International.

With advertisers abandoning the aforementioned Sunday tabloid and the political climate turning hostile, News International chief Rupert Murdoch switched to damage-limitation mode. He closed the NotW on 10 July after 168 years, and after standing by former NotW editor Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch he later accepted her resignation as NI chief executive. It wasn't enough.

Rupert and son James, head of his dad's UK business and therefore in charge of the NotW, were summoned before a Parliamentary committee on media affairs to give evidence on the hacking claims. There, both men denied they had any knowledge of the practice of phone hacking inside NotW, a remarkable claim given James had signed off hundreds of thousands of pounds in settlements related to hacking and given Rupert's famously fastidious involvement in the paper's running. When a News International lawyer challenged James' account, Murdoch junior was called back to Parliament for a heated showdown with committee members, but he stood by his claims of knowing nothing.

The fallout hit Rupert's business plans, too, as he binned his plot to buy the remainder of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

The relationship of Murdoch and News International to power was also laid bare: a former senior investigator for the independent Information Commissioner – who'd followed up on possible breaches of the Data Protection Act and who came across 17,000 requests for confidential information from journalists in notebooks owned by a private investigator – told Leveson he was told to lay off because the press was "too big" to take on.

Ironically, Scotland Yard officers later reported, in December, that the voicemails deleted on Dowler's phone – the catalyst for the entire firestorm – were found to have been deleted not by intrusive NotW journos, but by the voicemail system

Ironically, Scotland Yard officers later reported, in December, that the voicemails deleted on Dowler's phone – the catalyst for the entire firestorm – were found to have been deleted not by intrusive NotW journos, but by the voicemail system itself, which automatically canned messages after a period of 72 hours.

Voicemails weren't the only weak point on smartphone privacy; the subject of your phone spying on you also became a hot topic.

An Android app developer published what he said was conclusive proof that 141 million smartphones were secretly monitoring the key presses, geographic locations, and received messages of users with a piece of software from Silicon Valley company Carrier IQ.

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Verizon: Ransomware sees biggest jump in five years
    We're only here for DBIRs

    The cybersecurity landscape continues to expand and evolve rapidly, fueled in large part by the cat-and-mouse game between miscreants trying to get into corporate IT environments and those hired by enterprises and security vendors to keep them out.

    Despite all that, Verizon's annual security breach report is again showing that there are constants in the field, including that ransomware continues to be a fast-growing threat and that the "human element" still plays a central role in most security breaches, whether it's through social engineering, bad decisions, or similar.

    According to the US carrier's 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) released this week [PDF], ransomware accounted for 25 percent of the observed security incidents that occurred between November 1, 2020, and October 31, 2021, and was present in 70 percent of all malware infections. Ransomware outbreaks increased 13 percent year-over-year, a larger increase than the previous five years combined.

    Continue reading
  • Slack-for-engineers Mattermost on open source and data sovereignty
    Control and access are becoming a hot button for orgs

    Interview "It's our data, it's our intellectual property. Being able to migrate it out those systems is near impossible... It was a real frustration for us."

    These were the words of communication and collaboration platform Mattermost's founder and CTO, Corey Hulen, speaking to The Register about open source, sovereignty and audio bridges.

    "Some of the history of Mattermost is exactly that problem," says Hulen of the issue of closed source software. "We were using proprietary tools – we were not a collaboration platform before, we were a games company before – [and] we were extremely frustrated because we couldn't get our intellectual property out of those systems..."

    Continue reading
  • UK government having hard time complying with its own IR35 tax rules
    This shouldn't come as much of a surprise if you've been reading the headlines at all

    Government departments are guilty of high levels of non-compliance with the UK's off-payroll tax regime, according to a report by MPs.

    Difficulties meeting the IR35 rules, which apply to many IT contractors, in central government reflect poor implementation by Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and other government bodies, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.

    "Central government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds to cover tax owed for individuals wrongly assessed as self-employed. Government departments and agencies owed, or expected to owe, HMRC £263 million in 2020–21 due to incorrect administration of the rules," the report said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022