TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Unauthorized Remote Access to Answering Machine

Unauthorized Remote Access to Answering Machine

Choreboy (
Thu, 28 Jul 2005 02:51:27 -0400

I've been doing chores for a vacationing relative. Tuesday, I
answered his phone at 9 AM and got a series of beeps, perhaps half a
second long and three seconds apart. I waited and hung up. It
happened again two minutes later.

Two minutes later it rang a third time. I didn't get to it in time.
When I walked past the answering machine, the display said it was
being remotely accessed.

If my relative had called to check his answering machine, I didn't
understand why he had kept beeping me instead of replying when I said
hello. None of the messages had been erased. I'd never known him to
leave messages on the machine after checking.

Was it somebody fooling around? I asked another relative to phone and
try the machine manufacturer's default remote-access code, which was
incorrect. With the wrong code, the display said only for a second
that it was being remotely accessed. It had stayed on longer the
first time, as if the first caller really had checked the messages.

At 9 AM Wednesday morning it happened again. I listened a minute or
so, until the other end hung up. I realized the beeps were a pure
tone and not the sounds of a touchtone phone, so it wasn't my relative
trying to access his messages. When they called two minutes alter,
the answering machine got it. There was no third call.

Call Return gave me a number. It's not listed, but travel sites on
the web say it's the fax line of a fancy hotel hundreds of miles from
here. My relatives have never had occasion to stay in that city.

I don't know anything about fax protocol. When somebody answers, will
a fax machine emit a beep every three seconds or so for a minute or
so? Will it keep calling if a human answers but stop calling if an
answering machine answers? Can an answering machine mistake a fax
machine for a human with the access code?

Another possibility is that the Caller ID was faked and somebody is
using a machine to spy on my relative's telephone messages. Is there
such a device?

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: It could be a spy machine, but I think
it more likely that you/relatives are being terrorized by an incorrectly
programmed fax machine at the First National Bank of Chicago. That
very fax machine, or one of its ancestors has a long history (25 years
or more) of auto-dialing the wrong numbers, and continuing to do so
until Illinois Bell has to threaten FNB with disconnection of the
phone line to get it to stop. 25 years ago, circa 1979-80 First
National Bank of Chicago's fax machine was programmed to call around
to various branches of the bank during early evening hours to 'poll'
for documents or deliver documents issued by the bank. Trouble was,
the humanoids in charge of the machine misprogrammed the dialing
string. They got an extra '01' in the string somewhere, so the machine
was calling _Germany_ during what would be the overnight hours in that
country. Religiously, several times per night, five nights per week,
that fax machine was calling a private family in Germany, and
terrorizing them. Just silence, then 'beep beep, etc', more silence
then more 'beep, beep'. After a week or two of this, the family, by
now frightened out of their wits, or really, more annoyed, ask for
intervention from Bundespost, and in due course Bundespost traced it
back to the idiotic Americans, and in turn asked AT&T to review the
problem. AT&T found it was coming from Illinois Bell territory, the
Wabash central office to be exact, and told those people to get the
problem cured. Like complaints made to the Illinois Commerce
Commission where the complaint is raised and the prissy old lady
secretary at the Commission makes a _single_ phone call of inquiry,
then folds her hands and announces self-righteously "I have called the
company and they _assure_ me it will be corrected" (and then it never
is), IB Telco tracked it down to the fax machine at the First National
Bank, made a phone call, said in essence to can the shit and get that
fax machine under control. But it was not cured, and the problems went
on for another month or so all night long. The German family inquired
further, Bundepost inquired again, and AT&T, more than a little
annoyed -- I guess Bundespost had really breathed on them a little
this time -- passed along their grief once again to Illinois Bell.

This time, a manager in Illinois Bell's security unit made a 'courtesy
call' on the bank's Vice President-Telecom and told him unless _he_
would cure it, telco was going to cut off the fax machine line. The
VP-Telecom for the bank went downstairs with the proverbial hatchet in
hand, ready to do business on the spot, laid into his people and got
the fax machine reprogrammed on the spot. But, as Paul Harvey would
phrase it, 'the rest of the story is to follow'. Bank's telephone bill
arrived the next month, with page after page after page after page of
_LOTS_ of one-minute calls to the same number in Germany, one after
another, every couple minutes all night long. Since most employees of
First National Bank have the memory retention of a parrot or a tortoise,
bank employees in charge of reconciling the phone bill assumed, this
must be some screw up by the phone company, and by God, we are not
going to pay for a phone company mistake. Telco explained to FNB
(I assume with a straight face) what had happened. I do not know if
telco eventually wrote it off (as they used to do _everything_ that
a customer would not pay for) or not.

I wonder if the people using the hotel public fax machine wherever in
your account also blamed the added charges on their bill on a screw
up by the hotel switchboard. Probably. Did you or will you tell your
relatives about this incident when they get back from their vacation?

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