Hackers attempt to make firm’s phone system auto-dial Philippines 20,000 times


A downtown Milwaukee marketing communications company was an apparent victim of a recent "hack job" in which its telephone system was programed to make about 20,000 phone calls to the Philippines.
Creatonomy Inc. founder Priya Barnes said she received a call on the weekend of March 29 from her long-distance phone company, Qwest Communications, warning her that someone had programed her system to make the calls.
"They called me at home because I was obviously not at work," Barnes said. "We use Qwest for home service as well. It was their fraud guy. At that point, 1,000 phone calls had been made. I had them cut off my international access at that point."
Representatives of Qwest’s fraud and public affairs departments declined to comment on the incident.
According to a principal of Intellicom Wisconsin, Creatonomy’s phone system supplier, hacking into the Panasonic phone system operated by Creatonomy is not a simple task.
The Creatonomy system included a password, according to Barnes.
"If somebody hacked into their system, they had to have broken some type of a password and maliciously hacked their system," said Todd Poniewaz of Intellicom. "But I’ve been working on these systems for 20 years, and I don’t even know the sequence you would go through to do that."
"They managed to get a hold of my administrative access," Barnes said. "They set the system up to autodial out to the Philippines. The system attempted about 20,000 calls. Most likely, it was a prankster. The guy from the police department thought it could have something to do with a porn ring."
However, Poniewaz has a different theory on the motive behind the outbound calls – and the identity of the perpetrator at Creatonomy, which is based at 1661 N. Water St.
"You have to ask why somebody would want to do this," Poniewaz said, speculating that the incident was the work of someone who possessed the administrative access code. "To me, it sounds like somebody at the company was unhappy, and they must have had some basic knowledge and hacked into it."
But Barnes said her company hasn’t had that kind of employee situation.
Poniewaz said he has never seen another case involving malicious use of a phone system to make outbound calls.
"I have seen customers come in and need us to reprogram their phone systems," Poniewaz said. "They had an employee who ended up leaving, and they must have called up and changed the programing on it. I’ve seen that, but I have never seen somebody hack into a phone system and start using the system to make outbound phone calls."
Barnes said the only employee to leave the 3-year-old company departed under good terms.
"That was the first question the tech asked me," Barnes said. "We work with a lot of freelancers, but none of them use our offices."

April 18, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee, By Charles Rathmann, of SBT

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