Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hawaiian Telcom is blocking half of the world from calling - and won't tell you

Calling from Hawaii to the Maldives islands, and to Gambia, Nigeria, and many other countries,
Hawaiian Tel will not permit and does not want to disclose why such action would be taken except to say it is due to security concerns.

According to the Hawaiian Tel , refusal, suspension, or cancellation of services without prior notice is in their clause which states: Services may be suspended by the Company without prior notice to the customer by blocking traffic and all services to certain cities, countries, or NPA-NXX exchanges, or individual telephone numbers, or by blocking calls using certain customer travel cards, when the company deems it necessary to take such action to prevent unlawful or fraudulent use of its services. The company will restore services without undue risk.

Hawaiian Tel has been the main phone service provider in the State of Hawaii since 1892 and the only provider of landline services. Competitors like Time Warner Cable is using voice-over IP services. Hawaiian Tel also has been a main provider of national and international long distance services in the state.

The State of Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures living together on 6 isolated islands, often called the most remote place on Earth. Tourism is the major income in the state, and tourists from all over the world enjoy the tropical beaches of this remote US state. Because of this isolation, even in prior days, Hawaiian Tel always had a special responsibility to provide world phone coverage with its long-distance services.

ETurboNews, like many other global companies, constantly calls phone numbers in all corners of the world. Tourists and Hawaii residents are from nearly every location around the globe, including the Honolulu shop owner selling gifts from the Himalayas while his family still lives in Nepal and the Maldives. Tourists visit from places like Nigeria, and the list goes on.

When trying to call your family at home, or in the case of eTurboNews to reach out to countries like the Maldives, you will be in for a lot of frustration.

Recently, one of eTN’s reporters attended an event in the Maldives. When the head office tried to call someone that was met at the Hyatt hotel in the Maldives, a recording said: “You have reached an invalid number.” This invalid number recording is the response to phone calls made to a good portion of the world.

When Hawaiian Telcom repair was contacted, the response was that all calls to the Maldives, all calls to Gambia, all calls to Nigeria, all calls to Iran, etc. are blocked by their security. When eTN reached out to Hawaiian Telcom security, they refused to provide a list of countries or cities they blocked and had no comment as to why the recording would not inform the caller that the number was blocked, but instead said the calling number was invalid.

According to Hawaiian Telcom, this fraudulent activity is the manipulation of the company’s voicemail system. ETN had not subscribed to any such voicemail system and requested to have all international numbers unblocked.

Hawaiian Telcom Customer Relations Specialist Dana Wong responded saying the block is a system-wide block and cannot be undone. ETN could provide a specific list of numbers and Hawaiian Tel would only unblock such numbers and only for eTN lines. ETurboNews, of course, does not have such a list, and in the news business, calls are often sporadic and not planned. ETN feels this is an invasion of privacy and opens up the question of freedom of the press and communication in having to pre-register phone numbers a company wanted to call.

According to Hawaiian Telcom’s own refusal of service policy, such blocks cannot be permanent and services have to be restored if there is no undue risk for Hawaiian Telcom to provide such services. Dana Wong was unable to answer what the undue risk is knowing it cannot be the voicemail system. She repeated that Hawaiian Telcom would not provide a list of blocked countries or cities for its own protection.

ETN reached out to many land-line phone operators around the United States. They assured us no country is blocked on their system.

The US Federal Communication Commission provided information about fraudulent activities and issued a flyer to inform the public of such activities.

Voice Mail Fraud - Beware

If you don’t change the default password on your voice mailbox, you, or your company, could be in for a big – and expensive – surprise. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has become aware of a form of fraud that allows hackers to use a consumer’s or business’s voice mail system and the default password to accept collect calls without the knowledge or permission of the consumer.

The Scam Works Like This:

A hacker calls into a voice mail system and searches for voice mailboxes that still have the default passwords active or have passwords with easily-guessed combinations, like 1-2-3-4. (Hackers know common default passwords and are able to try out the common ones until they can break into the phone system.) The hacker then uses the password to access the phone system and to make international calls.

The hacker does this by first changing the voice mailbox’s outgoing greeting to something like “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, operator, I will accept the charges.” Then, the hacker places a collect call to the number they’ve just hacked. When the (automated) operator (which is usually programmed to “listen for” key words and phrases like “yes” or “I will accept the charges”) hears the outgoing “yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, operator, I will accept the charges” message, the collect call is connected. The hacker then uses this connection for long periods of time to make other international calls.

There is also another twist to this scam. A hacker breaks into voice mailboxes that have remote notification systems that forward calls or messages to the mailbox owner. The hacker programs the remote notification service to forward to an international number. The hacker is then able to make international calls.


What to Beware of:
• Hackers usually break into voice mail systems during holiday periods or weekends, when callers will not be calling; thus, the changing of the outgoing message goes unnoticed.
•  Hackers are typically based internationally, with calls frequently originating in and/or routed through the Philippines or Saudi Arabia.
•  Businesses that are victimized usually find out about the hacking when their phone company calls to report unusual activity or exceptionally high phone bills. (The fraud usually occurs on business voice mailbox systems, but consumers with residential voice mail also could also become targets.)
•  Consumers who are victimized may find out about the hacking when they receive unusually high phone bills.

What You Should Do to Prevent This Risk:
To avoid falling prey to this scam, the FCC recommends voice mail users do the following:
•  always change the default password from the one provided by the voice mail vendor;
•  choose a complex voice mail password of at least six digits, making it more difficult for a hacker to detect;
•  change your voice mail password frequently;
•  don’t use obvious passwords such as an address, birth date, phone number, or repeating or successive numbers, i.e. 000000, 123456;
• check your recorded announcement regularly to ensure the greeting is indeed yours. Hackers tend to attack voice mailboxes at the start of weekends or holidays;
• consider blocking international calls, if possible; and
• consider disabling the remote notification, auto-attendant, call- forwarding, and out-paging capabilities of voice mail if these features are not used.

The FCC advises consumers to consult with their voice mail service provider for additional precautions they can take to assure the security of their voice mail systems. If you believe your system has been hacked, call your phone company and report the incident to the police.

Hawaiian Telcom, Inc., is the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) or dominant local telephone company, serving the state of Hawaii. It is owned by Hawaiian Telcom Holdco, Inc., which was formed in 2005 by The Carlyle Group, following its purchase of the Hawaiian assets of Verizon Communications. They had been known as Verizon Hawaii, Inc., and previously as GTE Hawaiian Telephone Company, Inc., Hawaiian Telephone Company, and Mutual Telephone Company. The original company started in 1892.

Hawaiian Telcom provides local phone, long distance, Internet services (dial-up and DSL), and is a directory publisher and mobile virtual network operator using leased capacity provided by Sprint and Verizon Wireless's CDMA networks. Verizon Wireless's Hawaii operations were not included in the deal, and Verizon Wireless continues to operate in Hawaii as before the divestiture.

Carlyle's purchase of Verizon Hawaii was quite controversial with the public and competitive local exchange carriers, Time Warner Telecom, and Pacific LightNet, who had doubts about the Carlyle's lack of experience operating telecommunication businesses, and their intentions as to raising rates, upgrading the network with optical fiber as former-parent Verizon was doing on the mainland, and possible resale of the business in just a few years, all seen as being detrimental to the public interest.

Since breaking off from Verizon in April 2005, the company has been overcoming difficulties transitioning to its own systems. Issues ranged from extremely long hold times to speak to representatives, to duplicate and delayed bills. In February 2007, the company announced that it had reached a settlement with its original systems consultant, BearingPoint, and had hired a new contractor, Accenture, to complete the transition to the new systems.

Hawaiian Telcom announced on February 4, 2008, that it was replacing CEO Michael Ruley with turnaround expert Stephen F. Cooper, Chairman of Kroll Zolfo Cooper. Cooper's previous management engagements include Enron and Krispy Kreme.

On May 8, 2008, the company named Eric Yeaman as its new CEO, succeeding interim CEO Cooper. Yeaman previously served as Chief Operating Officer of Hawaiian Electric Company, the electric utility serving the island of Oahu. The company also announced that Walter Dods, former President of First Hawaiian Bank and one of several local investors in Hawaiian Telcom, was assuming the role of Chairman of the Board.

On December 1, 2008, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after missing an interest payment on its debt. The company's plan to reduce its debt by more than US$800 million was approved by Judge Lloyd King of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court on November 13, 2009. The plan required approval by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. After leaving bankruptcy, the company's stock became publicly traded in 2010, moving to NASDAQ in 2011.

On June 24, 2011, The State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs issued a 15-year cable franchise license to Hawaiian Telcom, thus ending Oceanic Time Warner's 35-year monopoly as the state's sole cable TV provider. Hawaiian Telcom launched the service on July 1, 2011 after a year of testing in the Honolulu area, with island-wide service to expand in 2012.

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