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Website punts caller ID spoofing to the masses

'Hi, it's the White House here'

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A new website offer subscribers a simple web interface to a caller ID spoofing system that lets them appear to be calling from any number they choose.

Called "Camophone", the service functions much like the Star38.com site that struggled with an abortive launch last month: a user types in their phone number, the number they wish to call, and the number they'd like to wear as a disguise. The system instantly dials back and patches the call through with the properly-forged caller ID.

Camophone is being promoted in ads that appear when searching for competitor "Star38" on Google.

The original web-based spoofing business launched 1 September on a wave of media attention that began with a report on SecurityFocus. Star38 was marketed to collection agencies looking to trick debtors into answering the phone. It asked would-be clients to pay a non-refundable $150 application fee, a twenty-five cent connection fee for each call, and seven to fourteen cents per minute.

Some legal experts said collection agencies would likely be prohibited from using such a service under federal fair debt collection laws, and three days after Star38's launch, founder Jason Jepson told the New York Times that he was looking to sell the business, claiming he'd received harassing phone calls and a written death threat. The site went dormant until this week, when it relaunched as a tool offered exclusively to law enforcement officials and "intelligence agencies". A phone message left on Star38's voice mail and an email to Jepson were not immediately returned Wednesday.

In contrast to Star38, Camophone is open to anyone with a PayPal account, at a rate of five cents per minute, pre-paid, with a five dollar, 100-minute minimum purchase. The service boasts that it keeps no logs, and the business' owner is a mystery: there is no contact information on the site, and the Camophone.com domain name was registered through a proxy service. But the site performed as advertised in a test by SecurityFocus, in which a reporter made phone calls appear to originate from the White House switchboard.

Caller ID spoofing has for years been within the reach of businesses with certain types of digital connections to their local phone company, and more recently it's become the plaything of hackers and pranksters exploiting permissive voice over IP systems and VXML hosting services.

Pranks on friends and loved ones are the most common application of spoofing, but not the only one. In August, Secure Science Corporation warned that hackers can use caller ID spoofing to break into the voice mail boxes of T-Mobile subscribers. A U.S. wireless company with 15.4 million customers, T-Mobile permits users to check voice mail without entering a passcode, as long as they're calling from their own phone - an easy matter to fake with caller ID spoofing.

In a statement, T-Mobile said that customers can switch on an option that requires them to enter a passcode even when calling from their own phone, and thus foil spoofing attacks. "We recommend that customers take advantage of the security a password can provide," the company said. Secure Science's Lance James says that's not good enough. "It's not on by default," says James. "The majority of people, if not all of them, leave it off."

"This has been going on forever," agrees phone hacker "Lucky225." "People are getting celebrity numbers... and it'll be on the default settings. Then they'll listen to the messages and get other celebrity numbers."

Another phone hacker, speaking on condition of anonymity, was openly angry about the Camophone service, because he was hoping to be first to market with his own Star38 copycat, for which he's registered the domain telespoof.com. He, too, used a proxy - like the proprietor of Camophone, the hacker plans on remaining anonymous. "I'm not going to put any of my info on it," he says. "I don't want to get death threats."

Copyright © 2004, SecurityFocus logo

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