Secrets for sale

The claim in today’s Guardian newspaper about journalists employing private detectives to use illegal means of gathering information on celebrities comes as no surprise. This has been going on for a long time. Price lists of information offered by small time information brokers have been circulating for decades. The Information Commissioner’s Office reported in detail on this practice more than three years ago. Their excellent report “What price privacy? The unlawful trade in confidential personal information” is essential reading for all security professionals. 

What is new is that the Guardian story suggests that “hacking” of mobile phone messages took place. This is one step beyond the traditional practices of bribing and blagging to gather information. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, blagging is the art of impersonating officials to extract information from officials is a highly effective method of social engineering. Like many frauds, it exploits psychology. As the ICO report puts it:      

“As with so many calls, it’s all in the art of persuasion. You have to make that person want to tell you that address, even though we all know they shouldn’t – it’s as simple as that really.”
 
The way to tackle this problem is to crack down harder on offenders. Despite what the media might suggest, this is not big business. It’s small time, under-the-counter trade. Bigger fines and sentences would encourage private detectives to stick to more legal forms of investigation.

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