With the Nobel Prizes being awarded today, along with the news that no further action will be taken in the News of the World phone hacking probe, it struck me that there is an obscure link between these two stories. In particular, there is a link between the phone hackers and a former winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics. But what could this link be?

Well, Richard Feynman – who won the Nobel Prize in 1965 – also built a reputation as a safe cracker. He was also an accomplished artist and bongo-drum player, but it’s his safe cracking we’re concerned with here. On a number of occasions he was able to open military safes containing top secret documents, to the amazement of the military top brass. How did he do it? He relied on the fact that despite paying for incredibly secure safes, people didn’t bother changing the combinations away from the factory defaults – and he found out what these were from the manuals!

The News of the World phone hackers used exactly the same principles, relying on the fact that many people don’t change the default PINs that come with their mobile phone accounts. The only difference is that Feynman used his trick for personal amusement rather than financial gain.