FBI probes possible Murdoch phone hacking in U.S.

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The fallout from the U.K. scandal implicating Rupert Murdoch's media empire of phone hacking has reached this side of the pond.

In response to requests from Congress, the FBI is launching an investigation to determine if journalists employed by Murdoch's News Corp. are culpable for violating privacy laws for trying to access the phone records of Sept. 11, 2001 attack victims, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a Friday press conference.

Prime Minister David Cameron initiated a similar inquiry last week in the U.K.

An FBI spokesman confirmed to The Associated Press that the bureau was looking into the allegations. The charges stem from an article in the British tabloid, The Daily Mirror, that claims a reporter from the now-shuttered News of the World attempted to purchase the phone records of 9/11 victims from a former New York City police officer who now is a private investigator.

The investigator apparently rejected the request. It seems the reporters planned to use the phone records to determine which voicemails of victims and families they wanted to attempt to hack.

Christopher Soghoian, graduate fellow at the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University, told SCMagazineUS.com on Monday that it is fairly easy to infiltrate voicemail systems. Most phone carriers use a default PIN – T-Mobile uses 2222, for instance – so intruders can easily gain entry.

Similar strategies can be used in the United States, he said.

To aid someone trying to hack into another's phone, caller ID spoofing services also are available, such as spoofcard.com, Soghoian said. In addition, most phone companies allow PINs to be bypassed so that a call may appear to be coming from an owner's phone.

While some carriers, such as Verizon, apparently require users to have a voicemail password, many others, such as AT&T, do not.

In the U.K., reporters at Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World stand accused of employing people to break into the voicemails of thousands of people.

Already the fallout from initial hacking charges in the U.K. has led to the resignation of Rebekah Brooks, who served as editor of News of the World, during the period when the paper's known phone hacking activities took place. 

Several other Murdoch employees have also been arrested.

Here in the United States, Les Hinton, chief executive of the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones, a financial news service, resigned as well, amid the scandal.

Charges, if brought by the FBI, would likely be filed under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), experts said, which was initiated following Watergate to criminalize the bribing of foreign officials to obtain or retain business, according to a report in The Washington Post.

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