Don't Be Like Sly: Keep Your Phones Safe


Former sleuth to the stars, Anthony Pellicano, is finally seeing his day in court  six years after a federal investigation launched into the private eye’s methods for obtaining private information on behalf of A-list clients including Paramount Pictures (VIA) chief Brad Grey and billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian.

The gumshoe allegedly employed a police detective and phone company employees to access the confidential information of Hollywood notables, including Sylvester Stallone and Garry Shandling. Pellicano has already served a 30-month prison sentence for federal weapons violations. He now faces a 110-count federal indictment for racketeering, wiretapping and witness tampering. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars. 

“People tap phones lines for one of three reasons—money, power, sex,” says Kevin Murray, of Murray Associates, which secures corporations against eavesdropping. Dr. Gordon Mitchell, president of the counterintelligence consultancy company, Future Focus agrees. “Oddly enough, in the private sector it isn’t usually a situation where the big powerful competitor is trying to get information, but some sort of soap opera is going on inside,” he says. “And usually you can preface the person you suspect with an ex. Ex-boyfriend, ex-husband ex-partner.” If you suspect that there is wiretap on one of your phone lines, you first want to establish a connection between the information loss and whoever you suspect is leaking it. If you can’t show a cause and effect relationship between the criminal and the crime, you can’t prosecute a case against an eavesdropper.

And while you’ll never know for sure if someone is listening in on your phone calls, you can work to prevent a tap from happening in the first place. “If you have a cordless [landline] phone, throw it away,” says Dr. Gordon Mitchell, president of the counterintelligence consultancy company, Future Focus. Conversations on cordless phones can be intercepted with simple $100 devices. (If you have a baby monitor, people can the use the same device to intercept that, too.)      

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to protect yourself. The most secure mode of talking is actually via cell phone. “As of about a month ago all analog cell phone service in the U.S. was shut off,” says Mitchell. “That’s a very significant milestone because you can no longer use a simple receiver to tap into calls.” Just be aware of where you leave your phone and who has access to it. If someone gets a hold of your phone they could download bugging software onto it. If you are concerned that your phone might have such software, “the cheapest and easiest fix is to just get another phone,” says Murray.

The business of traditional eavesdropping has been largely redirected to the Internet, leaving less people concerned about personal information being intercepted via phone. “Twenty years ago, a criminal would’ve had a hard time getting information,” says Murray. “Now there are so many vulnerabilities with computers they can exploit. It’s a lot easier than wiretapping.” 

But big corporations are still conscious about securing the workplace against foreign ears. “Whenever you’re in competition it means someone isn’t going to play the game fairly,” says Murray. “Businesses are very proactive about detecting these types of devices.” Most corporations do inspections on a quarterly basis, “and it’s something you rarely hear about,” says Murray. After hours, a counterintelligence security team will come in and investigate the most sensitive areas of the company. According to Murray, it costs between $5,000 and $10,000 to inspect eight to ten executive offices and a boardroom. 

So, why did Pellicano resort to traditional wiretapping in the age of the Internet? “He might be a little old school,” says Murray. “Or, let’s pretend someone is in a power struggle and they really want to make me nervous. If they say, ‘Here’s a tape of a conversation we had,’ that’s intimidating stuff.”

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