The telephone pranking of Sarah Palin by Montreal DJs demonstrates one kind of failure in the authentication of the origin of telephone calls to powerful people. The other kind of failure was demonstrated when American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen hung up on President-Elect Obama, believing herself to be the victim of a similar prank.
A much more disturbing example was the threatening phone call made to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, supposedly from India’s foreign minister. The call resulted in Pakistani forces being put on high alert – an action that could easily have provoked counter-responses and escalation on the Indian side.
Authenticating the origin of phone calls would appear to be a challenging business. Being able to rapidly and accurately assess whether a call is genuine could prove extremely important, and yet those two goals are at odds. The more rapidly a decision must be made, the greater the possibility of error. Similarly, the greater the security of the system, the higher the chance a genuine call will be rejected as a fake. For instance, two callers that agreed on a list of passwords with which they could authenticate future calls might find themselves unable to demonstrate their identities in situations where they temporarily did not have access to the list.