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The security hazards of voice mail.

Sometimes nightmares you never even imagined come true. That's what happened when Jacqueline Hallihan learned a former employee was breaking into her investment consulting firm's voice-mail system. Hacking into the system up to a dozen times a day, the salesperson erased client messages, listened to personal messages and even transferred potentially damaging messages to other employees.

"There's a four or five month void of not having any idea [who called]," says Hallihan, owner of National Regulatory Services Inc. in Lakeville, Connecticut. "It was a real invasion of privacy."

The FBI and state police conducted a six-month investigation that resulted in a felony conviction for computer crime. "We had to keep letting him do it until they could prove it," says Hallihan. "That was one of the more difficult things."

Voice mail can be hacked by former employees, competitive companies or even mischief-makers. To avoid a similar crisis, examine your security measures. The Multi Messaging Educational Committee offers these suggestions:

  • Base your voice-mail system in a room with controlled access. Change access passwords regularly, and only issue them to authorized personnel.
  • Monitor system reports to identify bad-password disconnects, unused mailboxes and any odd after-hours system activity.
  • Distribute voice-mail security policies to all employees.
  • Require employees to change passwords periodically. They shouldn't use obvious passwords like their birthday, child's name or social security number.
  • Never program your password into speed-dial keys on your phone, and never write down your password or give it to others.
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This article was originally published in the January 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hacked!.

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