Friday, March 09, 2007

Spoofing of sender cell phone numbers for text messages


ABC affiliate in Washington DC WJLA had a "7 On Your Side" report March 9, 2007 on text messaging. The report alleges that some cell companies allow Internet text messaging from their sites and allow the message sender to put in any cell number, without verifying the number. This has caused at least one incident where a 13-year-old boy got inappropriate messages, and the owner of the cell number was contacted. Fortunately, it was determined quickly that the cell phone number had been spoofed, as what happens with spam on with e-mail on the Internet. (One wonders if the cell company web site might even have accepted an incorrect land line number if spoofed, or a cell number from a different company. However, it would be easy to establish that a given land line number could not have send the message.)

There might be a risk that people could be falsely accused of and prosecuted for solicitation by electronic device if law enforcement did not carefully investigate the possibility of phone number spoofing in text messaging. (In Virginia, the applicable law is 18.2, text here.) This law has been enforced before with text messages. As with email, there is a need for automatic verification of senders to prevent spoofing. However, it seems that the intention of such an act seems only to be vandalism or harassment, as the recipient of the inappropriate message would not reach the actual sender if an illegal contact had really been intended.

Intentional spoofing of cell numbers, as with email addresses, for illegal messages should itself lead to a separate felony charge. State laws should be modified to cover this possibility.

Another aspect of this story that is particularly shocking is that in at least one case (Sprint) the cell company actually charged the false sending number for the illegal text messages, until Channel 7 pointed out the error. The fact that the cell phone system would have a gaping hole and bill for it seems like shoddy systems work and is particularly galling.

The WJLA story, by Ross McLaughlin, is here.

There was a novel in the 1990s that touched on this kind of scenario with a "telephone virus," called The Trojan Project, by Edmund Contoski, review here. Another example could be Stephen King -s 2006 meltdown thriller horror novel The Cell, not to be confused with a Jennifer Lopez film by the same name.


Anonymous said...

Let me tell you you how Phone spoofing has screwed me. Ex wife and I have Civil Protection orders againest each other (no calling, no contact between the two of us). She has now for the second time spoofed my company cell phone, to make her cell appear as if I contacted her. I've been arrested twice, and jailed now for a total of 6 days, the police officers have no clue about any of this, and it was hard to explain to my attorny. Both times this happened my phone records came up clear (no calls to her) which is great, but on the other hand I want justice---our judicial system really sucks!

Virtual Office Phone said...

Is there any way to filter unwanted SMS messages on the mobile phone? It could be nice if it has a sort of junk-sensing application the same way e-mail works.