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There`s Someone Listening

Posted July. 29, 2005 03:04,   


Land and Fax Lines-

Land lines are very simple so it is very easy to tap land lines by connecting a device into the terminal.

A fax machine is also easy to tap into by connecting to the phone line linked to the fax and hooking it up to an identical machine.

It is easy to listen in to mobile phones when they are calling to landlines. Mobile phones are difficult to bug, so one often bugs the landlines instead.

Mobile Phones -

Tapping of mobile phones has been an issue during every parliamentary inspection since 1999.

During the 2003 parliamentary inspection, it was found that it is possible to listen in to mobile phone conversations by getting an identical phone with the same phone number, given that the phones are in the same network. Afterwards, mobile phone carriers have installed tapping prevention devices in their base stations under the direction of Ministry of Information and Communication.

The government stated that listening in to mobile phone conversations is possible in theory by using a listening device, but impossible technologically and realistically.

Korean mobile phones, which use the code division multiple access (CDMA) standard, have frequencies that change into digital data bits of zero and one. Thus, to understand the content, the signals must be translated into voice signals. In order to listen in to a certain mobile phone, a large truck with an antenna and several experts are needed follow around in order to decode the signals.

In 2003, Pantech & Curitel Co. developed a "secret conversation phone," a wire tap prevention phone which encrypted signals once more, but it was not launched in the market.

E-mails and Messengers-

There are many programs on the Internet that enable one to look into other people`s e-mail accounts. These programs are easy to find through peer-to-peer (P2P) programs.

Kim Young-heon, head of KT`s Information Security Center, said, “It is possible to look into people`s e-mails and messengers by installing a monitoring program on a certain PC. In order to prevent this, unidentified e-mails and programs should not be opened or downloaded."

In companies and organizations it is possible to crack into the e-mails and messenger content of employees through an internal network monitoring program. It is known that many companies in Korea check employees` e-mails.

Recently, a former employee of the National Intelligence Service, Kim Ki-sam, stated that "[They] hack into laptops belonging to reporters in the politics section." Kim mentioned the usage of hackers but it is easy to hack into other people`s computers by installing a monitoring program in the main server where the reporters work.

Is there a solution?-

To protect e-mail and messengers, PCs should be regularly checked with vaccine programs and security updates.

The CEO of the Korean security consultant firm Kosses, Baek Bong-hyun, advised, “If there is an object stuck in a building phone terminal, the volume fluctuates or there are scratching sounds during a phone call, the phone is probably tapped.

Echelon, a worldwide information monitoring network run by US National Security Agency (NSA), taps into the phones, emails, faxes, and other wired and wireless telecommunication machines all over the world.

When a formidable organization such as a government decides to tap one`s phones, it is virtually impossible to keep one`s privacy private.

For these reasons, there are opinions that establishing a legal framework and access systems regarding private information is critical and urgent.

Suk-Min Hong Sang-Hoon Kim smhong@donga.com sanhkim@donga.com