Archive for the ‘Urban Espionage’ Category

Concerns about tracking mobile phones

In GSM Hacks, Urban Espionage on April 29, 2006 at 8:53 am

If your mobile phone is on the Vodafone network, try keying this into your mobile phone:

*#102# (then press call or send).

You should receive a message back telling you your location area code and the nearest transmitter to you. This doesn't work on all phones, but it is interesting when it does. Basically, what you have just done is what anyone with access to your mobile phone network can do at any time: find out exactly where you are.

Of course, this can be a useful feature of modern technology. Imagine your car has broken down and you're not sure where you are; certain recovery agencies can locate you from your mobile phone signal. The police can track criminals, and locate stolen handsets.

What worries me, however, is the growing number of companies offering services where an individual can track another's location through their mobile phone. Generally this is aimed at parents wanting to ensure their children's safety, or companies tracking employees. Yet a recent article in the Guardian newspaper highlights the risk that people may be abusing this facility to track people without their consent:

I can't quite believe my eyes: I knew that the police could do this, and
telecommunications companies, but not any old random person with five minutes
access to someone else's phone. I can't find anything in her mobile that could
possibly let her know that I'm checking her location. As devious systems go,
it's foolproof. I set up the website to track her at regular intervals, take a
snapshot of her whereabouts automatically, every half hour, and plot her path on
the map, so that I can view it at my leisure. It felt, I have to say,
exceedingly wrong. (Ben GoldacreWednesday February 1, 2006)

It seems that anyone with just a few minute's access to another's phone can set up this service without consent. Of course, most of these companies state that regular messages are sent to the receiptant's handset to ensure they are aware of the tracking, yet I fear such services may elicit much abuse of privacy. For example:

Your mobile phone company could make money from selling information about your
location to the companies that offer this service. (Ben Goldacre)

Or worse, you could be tracked without your knowledge by your partner, your boss, a malicious stalker… The best advice is this: if you suspect someone could be tracking you, call your service provider and ask them. By law, it should not be done without your consent.

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Finding and Tracing UK phone numbers

In Urban Espionage on April 26, 2006 at 1:31 pm

Finding or tracing personal phone numbers in the UK is no easy task. I don't pretend to know all the answers, but I can offer a few useful tips.

Let's divide this article into three sections:

  • Finding a number, when you know the name of who you want to call
  • Tracing a number, for when you want to know who has called you.
  • Avoiding your own number being found or traced.

Finding a phone number:

The first place most of us look when trying to find someone's number is BT Directory Enquiries. Despite being charged to call this service, it is still free to use online. Ideally, you will need to know the surname, first initial and the town (or you will almost certainly end up with more results than you can manage!). 192.com also alows you to search the telephone directory for free, and is often more useful if you want to search nationwide rather than just in one place.

However, more and more people these days choose to be ex-directory (their home phone numbers are not publically listed). If you think this might be the case, you could try searching for the name of anyone else who might live with the subject. Also, try searching for the person online as described in my previous article to see if anything comes up. But be warned: if someone doesn't want to disclose their home phone number, you are unlikely to be able to find it!

Finding a mobile phone number is even more difficult as there is currently no obligatory listings directory for mobile phone numbers. However, there are a couple of websites where people can submit their details and consent to being listed:

Tracing a phone number:

In the US, there are several services which enable you to reverse look up any phone number. However, in the UK, this is almost impossible for the average citizen.

BT will look up a number on your phone bill for you if you submit a query, and will trace nuisence calls to your landline. However, they cannot tell you who a number belongs to if you cannot offer one of these reasons for your query.

UK Phone Info can trace landline numbers to a location and offer some basic information about mobile numbers on their website. This is the only UK Phone number lookup I have found which offers services to UK based numbers, and though basic it can be helpful if you already have an idea about who the number may belong to.

Investigative Resources boasts that it can trace any (or at least, most) phone numbers in the UK, including mobiles. But this service comes at a very high price!, so only use this as a last resort!!

You could always try calling the number and ask who it it belongs to!

On that note, a friend of mine believed his girlfriend was cheating on him. He found a particular number on her phone bill and decided to find out who the number belonged to. Concerned that he would get hung up by asking directly who the answerer was, he said that he was Mr. Smith of such-and-such company looking for participants for a paid market research campaign. From this call, he got all the information he wanted: name, address, even date of birth! However, I must warn you careful reader, that I am unsure of the legal integrity of this act, after all, my friend was impersonating someone and elicited the said information by misleading!! (In other words, don't try this at home!).

Avoiding your own number being found or traced:

For any number of reasons, you may decide that you don't want people to find your own number. The first and easiest way to do this is to ask that your home telephone number be ex-directory so that no-one can find you in any directory. Ask BT (or your own service provider) not to include you in the UK phone directory. This is a free service, so you should not be charged.

Additionally, you may like to take advantage of the Telephone Preference Service which allows you to opt out of nuisence telemarketing calls; this is a free service which you can activate online.

With regards to your mobile number, as I mentioned before there is no compulsory directory of mobile numbers, so just be careful that you don't include yourself voluntarily in any! Many Pay as you Go sim cards do not need registration details (Orange always ask before activation, though!) so this gives an extra degree of privacy to your details.

There may be instances where you need people to be able to call you, but you prefer not to give out your personal number, for example, when running a business from home. There are many companies which offer free 0845 numbers and calls to your number are diverted to the landline of your choosing. This can also be useful when moving home as you can take your number with you!

In order to stop your own call being traced, the easiest solution is to key in "141" before the number you wish to call (withholding your number); this can be done on any landline or mobile, though apparantly some payphones do not allow callers to use this function. However, more and more people choose not to accept calls from anonymous callers, and your call may not be put through. There are a few ways around this problem:

  • Use a payphone, or another phone which can't be traced back to you.
  • Use a calling card: many international phone cards route you through another number so effectively your own number does not come up. Do test this first though, as this is not the case for all such cards.
  • Call through a switchboard if you have access to one, for example at work. In this case, the number comes up as "unavailable", rather than "withheld". Again, check this works with your chosen switchboard by calling your own phone first!

I hope the information in this post is useful to you, whatever your telephony need. Below are a few links which may help with any other issues:

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How to find someone online…

In Urban Espionage on April 24, 2006 at 9:53 am

…And avoid being found yourself!

In the days before the world wide web had invaded our lives and homes, tracking people down was a difficult and costly matter. But now, we live in the 21st century: almost everyone has an online presence in one form or another. It has become relatively easy to find someone online, if you know where and how to look. The down side, of course, is that other people can track us down too…

By learning how to track people down (long lost friends, relatives, debtors…) you can also understand how not to let your personal information be discovered by others.


Let's say we are trying to track down Jolene Bloggs (a fictional name of course!). Note down any information you have about them: full name; aliases and nicknames; last known location; schools and clubs attended; company name, etc… This information is useful when conducting your searches, as we will discover leter on.

But where do we go from here? The first and easiest port of call would be to type the name into a search engine such as Google or Altavista and see what comes up. This is easier and more effective when the person has an unusual name. Otherwise, you may come up with a list of hundreds of people from around the globe who may have no bearing on your search. You should type the name between "comment tags" for best results; you can also search for aliases, nicknames and surname only too. From here, you may find a few leads on your chosen trace: homepages, alumni inclusions and such. If the list is long, you could repeat the search including more information, such as the name of the company they work for, or the last school they attended.

Still no luck?

More information can be found by visiting the company/school/university/club home page (if you know them) of the person you are seeking. It is always a good idea to search Friends Reunited and Classmnates Reunited to see if they are listed too.

You can search the residential phone directory online for free, which details names and addresses. Usually you will need to know the town and preferably the first initial of the person for a good result. However, many people choose not to be listed in the public phone book to ensure that canvessers and unwanted callers cannot track them down at home.

By law, anyone eligable to vote in the UK should be registered on the electoral roll. You can search this online (usually for a fee) at 192.com and Electoralrolluk.co.uk. Searches on these websites can often bring up others who are registered at the same address, and include historical registrations as well as current ones.

Google Groups is an interesting place to search. You can find lots of information in this place as it holds records from bulletin boards from the early nineties onwards. Try searching for names, clubs and societies, places and companies relative to your search to discover any useful leads.

But what if you don't want to be traced online yourself?

The most important thing to do is never post anything personal about yourself online, eg: address, postcode, personal phone numbers, date of birth, and is possible, your real name. This may seem elementary logic, but you would really be surprised how many people actually do open their hearts online, especially on home-pages and chat rooms. Identity theft is a common threat. Be very careful about what you make public knowledge! Here are some further tips:

  • Search for yourself online. If you are concerned about the publication of any personal information you find online, ask the web page's webmaster to remove it and check that it has been done.

  • Use aliases on chat rooms and bulletin boards. Never give out your personal information in a profile and ensure that any membership details are kept in a secure database.

  • Remember that no-one can use or publish your personal information without your permission, so do ensure you read the terms and conditions of online memberships fully before commiting to them.

  • Ensure that your telephone numbers are ex-directory.

  • If you prefer not to have your details on the public electoral roll (which anyone can search!), then opt to be included only on the "edited register" where your details are kept private. Companies can still verify your address with your permission (for cretit applications, for example), but Joe Bloggs can't find out where you live. However, historical editions of the electoral roll cannot be edited.

I found this post interesting when researching this subject, basically it's a case study of what could happen when someone searches for you online. A little bit spooky for my liking…

In conclusion, here are some useful links to help you trace (and avoid being traced!) online:

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