Beware cell phone users, your privacy can be compromised on
Live Punjab News Service
Many websites, viz. Locatecell.com and CellTollscom, allure cell users with offers such as getting records of incoming and outgoing calls at cheap rates. This information is undoubtedly a useful tool for law enforcement agencies in their investigations. But little do these website owners realize that such data can easily be exploited by online stalkers, abusive spouses or identity thieves. Availability of this data can anytime make cyber criminals victimize innocent cell users.
What has been a source of worry is the way these sites are able to extract the entire information about the customer. As per wireless operators, these sites get customer information through fraud, such as disguising as a customer and asking for the account information. Another way of the information getting leaked is the attempts made by hackers to break into servers with sensitive information. Research also indicates that insiders- employees, partners and contractors- cause more security problems. Companies such as Vontu and its rival Vericept have built data-interception products that monitor e-mail, instant messages, FTP files and other electronic communications on corporate networks, sniffing for leaks of sensitive information.
The issue raised an alarm when a Washington based blogger, John Aravosis posted on his site, www.americablog.com, a detailed account of how easy it was for him to buy his own cell phone records, and then purchase the records of Gen. Wesley Clark, a former candidate for U.S. president.
Cell phone companies have taken upon the task of taking effective stand against those spelling this information. In the last couple of weeks, Cingular Wireless and Verizon Wireless have requested court orders against data brokers accused of obtaining the records through fraud. The Federal Communications Commission's enforcement bureau this week also said it's looking into companies that obtain telephone records without the customer's approval or knowledge.
Federal lawmakers have introduced legislation in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate to criminalize the activity of obtaining customer information falsely. For example, Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D- N.Y.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) introduced a bill earlier this week that would make it illegal to pose as someone else when calling a phone company, or for an employee to sell customer data. On the state level, the office of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal launched an investigation of companies that may have illegally sold consumers' cell phone data.
However, experts do profess that shutting down a few websites is not going to fix the problem. Cell phone companies need to better their process of securing personal billing information of the almost 20 million mobile subscribers in the U.S.
"Phone companies can definitely do a better job securing data," said Sherwin Siy, staff counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Centre in Washington, D.C. "It's extremely important that something be done to prevent these breaches from continuing, because it impacts everyone's right to privacy."