Bitcoiners Beware: Hackers loot cellphone accounts

Aug 31, 2017


The most obvious danger that comes to mind when discussing virtual currency is suddenly not being able to pay or be paid when you need to because the entire Bitcoin network shuts down. Now, the most pressing danger is behind the rising number of so-called phone hijackings.

This is when a criminal gains access In one case, one user lost millions and his cell phone number within minutes. But a 2016 report from the Federal Trade Commission Chief Technologist and a recent New York Times article shed light on the most concerning part about the rising hacker crime rates. And that is the worrying silence from the majority of phone hacker victims who have not wanted to acknowledge it publicly for fear of provoking their adversaries. Again, we are reminded of the importance of privacy ensured by cash. 

Excerpt from Your mobile phone account could be hijacked by an identity thief by Lorrie Cranor, FTC Chief Technologist (Jun 7, 2016) 

'A few weeks ago an unknown person walked into a mobile phone store, claimed to be me, asked to upgrade my mobile phones, and walked out with two brand new iPhones assigned to my telephone numbers. My phones immediately stopped receiving calls, and I was left with a large bill and the anxiety...'
"Lorrie CranorChief TechnologistFederal Trade Commission

The Growing Problem of Phone Account Hijacking

Records of identity thefts reported to the FTC provide some insight into how often thieves hijack a mobile phone account or open a new mobile phone account in a victim’s name. In January 2013, there were 1,038 incidents of these types of identity theft reported, representing 3.2% of all identity theft incidents reported to the FTC that month. By January 2016, that number had increased to 2,658 such incidents, representing 6.3% of all identity thefts reported to the FTC that month.  Such thefts involved all four of the major mobile carriers.

Identity theft reports to the FTC likely represent only the tip of a much larger iceberg. According to data from the Identity Theft Supplement to the 2014 National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, less than 1% of identity theft victims reported the theft to the FTC.

“Everybody I know in the cryptocurrency space has gotten their phone number stolen,”
"Joby WeeksBitcoin entrepreneur

Excerpt from Identity Thieves Hijack Cellphone Accounts to Go After Virtual Currency by Nathaniel Popper (Aug 21, 2017)

Hackers have discovered that one of the most central elements of online security — the mobile phone number — is also one of the easiest to steal.

In a growing number of online attacks, hackers have been calling up Verizon, T-Mobile U.S., Sprint and AT&T and asking them to transfer control of a victim’s phone number to a device under the control of the hackers.

Once they get control of the phone number, they can reset the passwords on every account that uses the phone number as a security backup — as services like Google, Twitter and Facebook suggest.[...]

But the attacks are exposing a vulnerability that could be exploited against almost anyone with valuable emails or other digital files — including politicians, activists and journalists.[...]

In a number of cases involving digital money aficionados, the attackers have held email files for ransom — threatening to release naked pictures in one case, and details of a victim’s sexual fetishes in another. 

Last Updated: Sep 5, 2017