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February 08, 2010

Spoofing Caller ID: Fun or Farce?



By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor


What good is Caller ID if the information you are provided about the caller is incorrect? This is not the case of poor technology mixing up a phone number – we are way beyond such hiccups in telephony. No, this is the result of apps now on the market that allow users to change or “spoof” their Caller ID. Sounds like fun, right?

 
What may appear to be just another fun app that can allow you to play a prank on a friend, this one takes on a more sinister role. This very technology almost cost a teacher at our local high school her job when a student spoofed a call using her information on the Caller ID.
 
According to a post on the Wall Street Journal blogs site by Andy Jordon, these applications are gaining in popularity in app stores. At the same time, Congress is considering legislation to outlaw particular users of the technology. Unfortunately, this legislation is stalled, allowing criminals to continue to use it to their advantage,

Companies like SpoofCard and Spoofem are offering Caller ID spoofing technology that allows a user to change the Caller ID to show any desired number on a recipients Caller ID display. Some apps allow users to mask or change their voice and Spoofem even allows users to fake texts and e-mail.

Meir Cohen, President of TelTech Systems, SpoofCard’s parent company, claims that people use this technology as a lifestyle. Both Spoofem and SpoofCard claim more than one million customers.

In all reality, there are honest and useful applications for such software. Jordon suggested such examples as the doctor who has to call a patient late at night, but doesn’t want the individual to have his or her home number or cell phone number; or a public relationships specialist calling on behalf of a client and wishing the client’s name to pop up on the Caller ID display.

While these may be legitimate arguments, there are other technologies that have been around for quite a while that can enable these professionals to do the same thing without opening the door for sinister uses.

The spoof service doesn’t shed a very positive light when it is targeted to women. Spoofem, in fact, found very early that 80 percent of its users were women who were trying to catch a boyfriend or girlfriend cheating.
 
Even worse, some spoofing companies have enabled their software to hack into the voicemail of others by taking advantage of a feature that allows calls from a person’s own phone to default to voicemail without a password.

Spoofing companies are passing the blame for the security flaw. “It is not the service…. it’s the cell phone companies,” says Gregory Evans, President of Spoofem.com. “The cell phone companies have to take some type of responsibility.” Seriously? Do we operate in a market where it is OK to invade the privacy of others simply because someone left a door open?

Washington, D.C.-area based Telecom Attorney Mark Del Bianco, who also represents SpoofCard, says Congress cannot legislate against a technology. “They can’t make telling lies illegal,” he said. “In the end, it’s the responsibility of anyone who has a voicemail box to make sure it’s not easy to hack into that voicemail box.”

He does caution against using Caller ID spoofing software to commit a crime. He warns that the information is captured in call records and can be traced. This capability was the only thing that saved one teacher’s job – but there are many who believe it never should have been at risk in the first place.

On a positive note, Spoofem recently stepped in the catch the bad guys. It was announced in January the launch of a Wiretrap to catch spyware installers. “Most anti-spyware programs detect spyware on a computer, but Wiretrap is a Web-based service that will detect 'who' installed spyware on an individual's computer,” company officials said.

Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for eastbiz.com. To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Erin Harrison


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