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SMS security risks highlighted by Friends Reunited hacking case

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Breach of trust by two dismissed mm02 workers, rather than deeper problems, led to the release of private text messages to a jealous boyfriend that sparked a campaign on revenge against his cheating girlfriend.

Last week, 21 year-old student Philip Nourse was jailed for five months at Guildford Crown Court for his subsequent revenge on her.

Nourse hacked the Friends Reunited account of his 19 year-old girlfriend altered her details and pasted photographs of the two having sex. Nourse also printed up explicit pictures of her which he planned to post around where she lived and, as if that wasn't enough, hacked into her email account to direct her friend to explicit images of her posted online.

Nourse obtained proof of his girlfriends' infidelity by persuading two friends, employees at O2, to intercept her text messages and pass them on to him.

A spokeswoman for O2 told us this was only possible because of a breach of trust by two engineering workers who have subsequently been sacked and convicted for offences under the Data Protection Act. O2 is not prepared to release the names of the pair but tells us both were convicted and fined for DPA offences this July.

The person who intercepted Nourse's girlfriend's messages worked in a "privileged position" at an engineer on 02's text platform. He was aided by another engineer. Cracker tools were not used to extract the text message, O2 told us. The firm said that, despite the incident, it is happy with its systems and users should feel comfortable about the using text messages.

Analysts Gartner said the case illustrates that SMS is not a secure environment suitable for sending confidential messages.

"The contents of SMS messages are known to the network operator's systems and personnel. Therefore, SMS is not an appropriate technology for secure communications. Most users do not realise how easy it may be to intercept," it warns.

Gartner added that the case also showed how important people issues - rather the technologies concerns - are in trying to prevent security breaches. ®

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