People who obtain calling records often use a technique known as pretexting â€” using a pretext, like masquerading as a customer, to get a company to disclose information. Their shady subculture has been getting renewed attention since the revelation last week that a subcontractor for an investigative firm working for Hewlett-Packard used pretexting to obtain the call records of company board members and reporters.
It is hard to quantify the size of the telephone pretexting economy. But in recent years it has turned into a small industry, with dozens of Web sites offering calling records to anyone with a credit card, for a modest fee. Their main customers appear to be private investigators, although some in that field criticize the practice.
[…] Pretexters often use techniques similar to those employed by identity thieves to obtain not only telephone records but also other private data. Robert Douglas, an information security consultant and former private detective, said they often called telephone companies armed with some personal information, like a customerâ€™s Social Security number, mailing address or date of birth. Then they charm and cajole the phone company employee into thinking they are the actual customer.
â€œThey have the knack,â€ Mr. Douglas said. â€œItâ€™s more art than science.â€
Many professionals pretexters, including those who have used the practice to build lucrative data brokering businesses, are reluctant to discuss their methods. At a Congressional hearing in June, 11 of the witnesses who were called refused to answer questions, invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
[…] Mr. Douglas, the security consultant, agreed that the carriers faced a tough balancing act. â€œWeâ€™re in the McDonaldâ€™s generation. Everybody wants information and they donâ€™t want to wait for it,â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s why these guys win.â€
Later: deep waters for HP getting deeper — House Panel and U.S. Attorney Join H.P. Inquiry; HP Scandal Widens With U.S. Probes – pdf — and a big article in Newsweek: Suspicions and Spies in Silicon Valley – pdf; see also E-Mail Offers Peek Into Debate
Later — a board chairman ejected: Spying Uproar Causes Shuffle in Boardroom