The Power to Password Protect

Posted by: Bob Quinn on August 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Once upon a time, with the increasing popularity of talking on the go, AT&T made it easier for our wireless subscribers to get access to their cell phone voicemail boxes without having to use their password when they were calling the mailbox from their mobile device.  For folks who do a lot of talking while traveling, that option proved safe and certainly more convenient (no entering four or more numbers into the telephone) for our users. 

However, given the advent and, unfortunately, the wide availability of sophisticated telephone number spoofing technology that allows people to “fake” the telephone number they are calling from, we are moving in a new direction.  We have long encouraged our subscribers who might have concerns about voicemail privacy to establish passwords and to set their voicemail preferences to require the use of a password whenever voicemail is accessed. 

Beginning today, however, we will automatically set the default voicemail setting to Password Protect on any new subscriber or new line added to an existing account.  In addition, beginning in early 2012, we will set the default voicemail setting to Password Protect anytime you upgrade or change your handset.  That means whenever you get a new device, you will be required to set a password and use it unless you affirmatively turn the feature off. 

In the meantime, until our systems are capable of effecting that change to your default setting, whenever you come into one of our stores to change or upgrade your handset, our  representatives will instruct you on how easy it is to change your voicemail setting to Password Protect on your new handset.  Over a transition period, all of our customers will ultimately have the default setting on their voicemail turned to Password Protect.  But they will still have the option of disabling that feature on their voicemail account if they prefer the convenience of not having to use a password when they call voicemail from their own handset. 

We wish that we did not have to make this change.  While there may be legitimate reasons for a caller to mask their phone number, broadly available commercial spoofing technology is wide open to misuse. As in so many other situations, it is the misuse of the technology rather than the technology itself that is the problem. So we will take these extra steps to make sure that our customers know exactly how to get the level of security that is right for each of them. 

Some privacy advocates have called on companies like AT&T to go further and actually prohibit our customers from accessing voicemail unless they use a password.  We are not going to go that far.  We prefer to allow our subscribers to make the choice of whether or not they want to use a password themselves.  But we are going to recommend to everyone that they choose the password option. Ultimately, whenever you get a new device, you will have to affirmatively choose to deactivate the Password Protect option. 

You can learn more about how to use Password Protect to secure your voicemail here.  

We remain committed to protecting your privacy and we are constantly seeking ways to improve the protections available to you.

Comments (1)

Bob,

Good article..I do feel for you a bit. I would imagine telephone voicemail spoofing is the preverbial needle in the haystack and your having to react to potential media pressure. Its a tough situation..that inconveniencing 99% of your good customers to stop a tiny percentage of potential bad ones.

I think your next challange will be how to prevent the crooks from calling into your Call Centers and requesting a change in password etc..,,and what type of customer identifying questions you can ask that wont frustrate customers, yet stymie the crooks.

I do hope all turns out for the best.

Art Barger August 7, 2011 at 7:57 pm

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