October 22, 2013
All across America, people who have Sprint service on their iPhones and other mobile devices are receiving repeated calls from the number “865-6696″ without any area code. Sprint message boards are full of thousands of complaints of people experiencing this issue, but no one seems to understand the true reason why these calls are being made.
When the call is answered, no one is there. Attempting to call the number back does not work. Spelled out on the phone keypad, the number “865-6696″ spells out “UNKNOWN,” adding to the mystery of where these calls are originating or what their purpose might be.
Comments on message boards such as 800notes.com say things like this:
I receive 3 or 4 calls per day from this number… with no area code. just 865-6696. i’ve not answered it for fear of who might be on the other end. i’m not sure how to report this and get this number to stop calling me. VERY aggravating!
Investigation turns up frightening possibility of surveillance code payload
After hearing about this issue from several people I know personally, I decided to investigate.
First, a scan of the message boards indicates this issue is limited almost exclusively to iPhone owners using Sprint. Some people on the message boards have incorrectly assumed these calls must be from telemarketers, but if that were the case, it wouldn’t be limited to just iPhone users, as telemarketers have no way to know what hardware device exists at their target phone numbers. Furthermore, even after blocking this number, people continue to receive calls from it, confirming that these calls are exempted from call blocking.
Here’s another fascinating point: I’ve been able to confirm over and over again that these calls are being placed with foreknowledge of the exact hardware of the target phone number. The originator of these calls, in other words, knows in advance that the user has an iPhone and not an Android or other mobile device.
As user “JMillz” describes in his comment post:
I have an iPhone 4 with Sprint and I just started receiving these calls a couple days ago. I have been reading you guys’ posts on here and we pretty much ALL have the same things in common: All with Sprint AND ALL have either iPhones 4 or 4s’… I’ve been getting calls from this number non-STOP! When I do pick it up they just either hang up or its dead air and then hangs up. VERY annoying! I opened up a case with Sprint tech support and they had NO solutions for this issue other than to do a master reset (which would just erase all media in my phone not backed up to icloud) or change my number! Not cool at all.
This all but proves these are not random telemarketing calls. The calls are clearly being placed by an organization that knows who owns iPhones and wishes to get them to answer their phones.
NSA surveillance Trojan Horse installed if you answer?
To find out, I called a contact I’ve known for a few years who is an expert in cyber security. He’s been one of the people closely watching the Edward Snowden disclosures and the NSA surveillance issue. He obviously asked me not to reveal his identity, so I won’t.
He told me that this has been going on for over a year and that he believes the phone calls are a vector by which the NSA can install surveillance code onto iPhone devices but only if you answer the phone. Once you answer, a so-called “digital payload” is quickly downloaded to your phone while you are saying “Hello? Hello?”
“The digital payload requires several seconds for a complete download,” my contact told me. “If you hang up before the download completes, your device won’t be infected [because the code cannot be executed].” The code is carried with the call, I was told, as a parallel digital stream encoded into the call data itself, in much the same way that secret messages can be encoded into JPEG images. Apple deliberately built in this “back door” payload receiving system, a fact which has been confirmed by releases of information from former NSA worker Edward Snowden that show how Apple, Google, Microsoft and other corporations deliberately built in back doors for NSA surveillance.
The purpose of this digital payload, I was told, is not known, but it may be Trojan Horse code that attaches “bread crumbs” to your phone calls that allow the NSA to more easily locate, track and archive your phone calls, text messages and mobile web surfing activity.
CNET and others confirm iPhones can be easily hacked
It is not unusual for iPhones to be hacked in ways that allow other users to access all your private details and even bypass your iPhone passwords. CNET, for example, independently confirmed that an iOS 6.1 hack ”lets users see your phone app, place calls.”
“CNET can confirm it works,” says the article. It goes on to explain the hack allows others to “access your phone application, listen to your voice mails, and place calls.”
iPhoneHacks.com also reports on a hack in iOS 7 that “allows anyone to make a phone call from the lockscreen.”
ZDnet also reports that iPhones can be “hacked in 60 seconds,” and the article even explains how it’s done.
None of these hacks are digital payload hacks installed using phone calls, of course, but they clearly demonstrate the vulnerabilities or back doors built into the iPhone operating system (iOS).
So why are people receiving repeated calls?
If all this is true, it begs the question of why people would be receiving repeated calls from the 865-6696 phone number. When I asked my contact why this would be happening, he answered that, in his belief, this program was a test rollout on the Sprint network only, and that testing was being done to establish human behavior patterns such as answer rates, hold times after answers, and payload install time requirements. This information could then be used to determine whether a more expanded rollout across other phone networks would make sense.
Skeptical of all this, I asked why the NSA couldn’t just install these surveillance programs in the phones when they are manufactured. Why bother with the complication of digital payloads? He answered that surveillance programs ARE installed at the factory, and that “all iPhones already ship with surveillance code installed,” but that older phones such as the iPhone 4 did not have the most up-to-date surveillance code installed and so needed to be remotely updated with the new code via the “digital payload” described in this article.
Personally, I’m not sure if I buy all that, but in an age where the NSA has now had to admit it routinely spies on nearly ALL phone calls of Americans, this scenario is no longer far-fetched. It may, in fact, be routine.
Bottom line? If you receive a call from 865-6696, don’t answer it. Far better to call 867-5309 and ask for Jenny. (Nod to an 80′s rock song, if you’re curious…)