[NYT] Phone system hacking in LV

Rohit Khare (khare@mci.net)
Thu, 26 Jun 1997 19:10:09 -0400

Markoff dug up a pretty well-done story here. He's the man with the
rolodex, I suppose -- even the anonymous Emanuel (after the 1984 character)
is in there.

I find it hard to believe how many logs would have to be overwritten to do
this. The carrier-swap result does seem pretty convincing, though.

It's the equivalent of identity fraud. Not pretty when it happens via
hijacked domain names, ugly when it's 800#s.


June 26, 1997
Nude-Dancing Services Say Rivals Are Stealing Their Phone Calls


LAS VEGAS -- On sultry desert nights, Hilda Brauer, the co-owner of the
Perfect Body's and Young and Sexy Bodies nude-dancing services, sits in her
office near the city's glittering gambling strip and waits for the phone to
These days it seldom does, and Mrs. Brauer, who says she used to get 50
calls a night to send dancers to hotel rooms, blames a shadowy mix of
technology and money lust. In a lawsuit filed here in the 8th Judicial
District Court for Clark County, she charged that her competitors were
using computer hackers to divert phone calls from her service to their
Brauer is not alone. At least two other nude-dancing services here have
made similar complaints to the local police and the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, saying that their calls were being mysteriously siphoned off
by the competition.
Although they are baffled by how the calls are being diverted, they say the
decline in their businesses does not make sense at a time when Las Vegas
hotels and resorts are undergoing the fastest expansion in the history of
the strip.
Telephone company officials generally reject the idea that outsiders can
get past security measures to reprogram the computerized switching gear to
redirect telephone calls.
But in the past decade, there have been numerous examples of hackers who
were able to commandeer telephone switches in central offices, allowing
them to tap phone lines, reroute calls, destroy billing records and
otherwise create mayhem.
And Emmanuel Goldstein, publisher of 2600, a quarterly journal for members
of the computer underground, said it would be fairly easy to divert calls
by falsely applying the phone company's call-forwarding feature to a phone
"We're not talking about high technology, we're talking about greed,"
Goldstein said.
Any sort of business might be vulnerable to such sabotage, he said. In
September 1995, for example, Michael Lasch, an independent plumber in
Levittown, Pa., a suburb northeast of Philadelphia, was sentenced to seven
to 23 months in the Bucks County Prison after pleading guilty to using a
telephone call-forwarding scheme to pick up service calls from his
competitors' customers.
But here in Las Vegas, it seems appropriate that the main characters in the
telephone mystery are the operators of the "adult entertainment" business.
Prostitution is illegal both in Las Vegas and in surrounding Clark County.
Yet the Yellow Pages directory here carries 106 pages advertising "adult
entertainers," a number exceeded only by the 140 pages of advertisements
for lawyers.
Mrs. Brauer, 53, who is known as Tasha and says she has been in the
business for 13 years, used to receive a $100 fee every time she sent a
dancer to the room of a guest in any Las Vegas hotel.
When her phones fell silent, Mrs. Brauer filed suit in Clark County last
year, charging the Sprint Corp.; SOC Inc., an adult entertainment
competitor, and R.R. Donnelly & Sons, the Yellow Pages publisher, with
systematically diverting phone calls from her business to SOC. Recently,
the phone company and the telephone directory publisher filed papers
seeking to have the suit dismissed.
"I want to expose this; I want to get it out in the open," said Mrs.
Brauer, who said she would soon be forced to close her doors. "If they can
do this to us, they can do it to anyone."

Eddie P. Munoz, another operator of a nude-dancing business in Las Vegas,
tells a similar tale. He says he used to make as much as $50,000 a month
from referrals, but in the last five years his business has collapsed. Like
Mrs. Brauer, Munoz blames his competitors and believes that he has evidence
that his calls are being diverted either by a group of computer outlaws or
by corrupt phone company employees.
Raising the specter of mob participation, Munoz also points to what he
considers a suspicious consolidation in the business: Five years ago, there
were about 10 large adult entertainment services in Las Vegas, Munoz
estimates, but that number has now shrunk to three big businesses, he
While technical specialists at AT&T Corp. are still studying Munoz's case,
technicians for Sprint said had looked into complaints by both Mrs. Brauer
and Munoz but could find no evidence of phone fraud or tampering. A
spokesman for the FBI said the bureau had also found nothing.
But in his cramped and cluttered office, Munoz displays reams of phone
records that he said prove how his calls are being diverted. A month ago,
in an effort to protect his business, he shifted his phone service from MCI
to AT&T. For a month, his call volume shot up to its previous levels -- and
then mysteriously plummeted.
"I'd call the phone company for a traffic report, and they'd tell me their
records showed I had 221 calls, but the phone hadn't rung all night," he
Munoz has been struggling to get law-enforcement officials as well as the
Public Service Commission of Nevada to take notice of his plight. He said
he was preparing to file his own suit.
In April, he received notice from the Public Service Commission, saying the
agency had voted that Sprint was not responsible for Munoz's problem.
'We are not saying that there is absolutely no problem out there with
dropped calls to entertainment businesses." wrote Barry Holt, a senior
consumer investigator for the commission, "we are merely saying that the
Public Service Commission and the local exchange company are not involved
in the problem."
Holt said that the commission believed that the complaints might have some
merit, but that the crimes fell outside his agency's jurisdiction.
"At the conclusion of our investigation, everyone felt that there must be
something going on, because so many companies had come forward to
complain," he said.