a blog from

Hoax caller chats with David Cameron by posing as GCHQ boss

26 Jan 2015


Telecoms security has been in and out of the headlines for almost two years now, ever since patriot/traitor/hero/villain (delete as your opinion dictates) Edward Snowden revealed the PRISM campaign and the rest in 2013.

We've since learned that GCHQ has a pretty tight grip on the communications flowing around the UK and the rest of the world. So you'd think the folks at the top at GCHQ and the government would be adept at keeping their own comms secure.

Not so, it seems. Sneak was amused to read that David Cameron received a prank phone call from someone who managed to bypass the switchboard security (the mind boggles as to how) and was given the mobile phone number of the head of GCHQ, Sir Robert Hannigan.

Cameron explained that the hoax call took place while he was out for a walk, and was told, presumably by a government switchboard operator with a heavy case of 'Sunday afternoon lull', that he was being put into a conference call from Hannigan.

Cameron, however, was not taken in and said he was immediately suspicious when the caller said sorry for 'waking him up' at the start of the call.

Sneak knows politicians are often characterised as lazy, feckless types, but even he wouldn't have thought Cameron was in bed at 11am on a Sunday.

"I thought that was strange as it was eleven o'clock in the morning," Cameron said, with James Bond-like calm.

He then confirmed that he ended the call without revealing any national security information, such as Trident's tactical nuke launch codes, his inner thigh measurements or the location of the Holy Grail. Phew.

Thwarting credit card crooks: it’s all in the jeans

19 Dec 2014

Sneak goes about his daily life with a healthy dose of paranoia and suspicion. And rightly so, as he recently discovered that tech-savvy crooks can wirelessly swipe information from contactless credit cards - all via a smartphone and a bit of technical finesse.

Feeding Sneak's natural distrust of the human race and pretty much everything in between, security experts have claimed that this form of remote pickpocketing is a growing problem.

Sneak is beginning to think that it might be best never to leave the house, but unfortunately Mrs Sneak keeps going on about "fresh air", "sunlight" and "the missing cat".

Being forced to navigate the mean streets of Britain, Sneak now has to carry around a wallet lined with lead and wrapped in tin foil. But help is at hand, according to the BBC.

Security firm Norton has teamed up with clothing firm Betabrand to create men's jeans and women's blazers featuring pockets lined with a sliver-based radio frequency identification blocking material.

Security-conscious fashionistas might enjoy the video below.

Effectively, the partnership has created the first wave of cyber-security fashion. With the tech trend trackers touting wearable technology as the next big thing, Sneak predicts that more clothes will need a layer of security. Perhaps we'll see shirts with firewalls, encrypted socks and hats with data segregation.

However, Sneak should probably alert you to the price before you rush to pick up Betabrand's jeans and jackets when they land in shops in February 2015 -  the jeans cost the equivalent of £96 and the blazer a steeper £127.

Sneak gave up following fashion when the boot cut trouser died a slow death on the high street, but he still thinks some people might baulk at the prices. That being said, can you really put a price on peace of mind?

To indulge his paranoia, Sneak would splash out on the jeans, but that would mean breaking a decade of rocking mustard cords.

Warning: Chinese e-cigarettes may damage your PC's health

25 Nov 2014

Sneak remembers his first cigarette, a rather clichéd affair involving bike sheds, peer pressure and no shortage of coughing. He decided that putting tubes of burning paper and dried leaves into his mouth was not for him.

Ever since then Sneak has been the one who looks after people's coats at the pub. But apparently, smoking can be quite moreish.

For Sir Walter Raleigh fans who aren't in denial about the warnings liberally plastered over tobacco packaging, electronic cigarettes offer a nicotine vapour-fuelled alternative to a tar-filled respiratory system.

Having originally thought that e-cigarettes were simply smoking apparatus from Yorkshire, Sneak decided to do a little more research into the subject.

To his surprise, while e-cigarettes are better for a smoker's health, it turns out they are not so good for the faithful PC or laptop that has the duty of charging the contemporary cigarettes.

According to a report on Reddit, some e-cigarettes appear to contain malware that can be inhaled by PCs and laptops when plugged into a USB port to charge.

One user who claims to be "an IT guy" detailed a data breach story at a "large corporation" where a seemingly secured computer was infected with malware from an unknown source.

The IT team went into Sherlock mode and eventually deduced that the malware came from a Chinese e-cigarette. Apparently the malware had been hard-coded into the charger, making like E.T. and phoning home to infect the system once it was plugged into a USB port.

While fellow Reddit users piled in with opinions, the consensus was to avoid charging e-cigarettes via USB and to stick to wall chargers.

Sneak would have suggested that smokers try the cold turkey route instead, but thought this might prompt some confusion with Christmas just round the corner.

E-cigarettes are not the first seemingly mundane items to contain hidden malware; digital photo-frames, MP3 players and other USB-enabled devices have been known to harbour viruses that can exploit poorly protected networks.

Ever the conspiracy theorist, Sneak believes this may be the first stage of a Chinese invasion, where every e-cigarette smoker is an unwitting sleeper agent swathed in malware and nicotine vapour.

He's even taken to keeping a weather eye on Mrs Sneak's cat, Chairman Meow, who has been acting strangely ever since Mrs Sneak started Mandarin language classes.

Germans to avoid spying eyes with typewriters

22 Jul 2014

Typewriter Man Smoking Pipe

Sneak is working on a novel. It's a labour of love that is so complex, clever and cunning that it makes Game of Thrones look like Spot the Dog. When it's ready, and yes Mum it will be, the world will proclaim the greatness that is Sneak.

So good is this work that Sneak has always been concerned that writing it in the traditional method – on Microsoft Word on a laptop – posed the risk that if someone got wind of it and hacked into his machine, they could steal the idea and make gazillions.

To avoid this fate, Sneak has for many years used an ancient, bashed-around typewriter left to him by his great grandfather (the dapper chap pictured above).

Yes his friends mock him when they come round (OK, see it over his shoulder on the webcam) but it’s a trusty machine and no-one’s going to hack into it, that’s for sure. In fact, he often wondered why other security-conscious organisations don't have the odd typewriter kicking around for important intel.

Well it appears the Germans are catching on after Sneak read that the German government is considering using the old-fashioned machines to help stop spies, such as those from the US, from accessing, intercepting and reading the country's most secret data.

The Guardian reported that Christian Democrat politician Patrick Sensburg, after being asked, as a litte joke, if the country was considering typewriters to avoid spying that, "As a matter of fact, we have – and not electronic models either."

"Really?" came the response (in German though, no doubt). "Yes, no joke," Sensburg said back. He never jokes.

Good for you Germany! Let’s see you crack a unnetworked, decades-old, ink and ribbon typewriter, NSA. As for Sneak, he's off to write chapter 247 of his novel. It's an exciting bit, as the Orc King Gringarlos battles the Dragon Wizard Zilarbeth in the Moon Palace of Zingador. Excited? You should be.

Central Intelligence Agency joins Twitter and Facebook

09 Jun 2014

Sneak finally has some decent people to talk to on his social networking accounts, the venerable chaps, and ladies, at the US Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA to close friends.

Sneak is often found to be on the receiving end of a mute or blocking order, he hopes that the new social CIA will embrace him and his own brand of unclassified disclosure.

Certainly it looks like the CIA is open to the social experience and it has promised to share outwards. Sneak hopes that it will be equally open to responses.

While looking at the CIA account Sneak realised that other people have the same hope, and he noticed that a chap called @Wikileaks has promised to respond to official disclosures with some of its own. Sneak is looking forward to that.

However, while he is hoping for messages that are juicy like so many peaches, the truth is probably - and this is often the case - that things will be very boring indeed.

Take the CIA on Facebook. Sneak was expecting to see a video of a monkey sniffing something, a picture of some lunch, or hell, even a selfie, but none of that is in place. Instead there is a message that promises no fun at all.

"CIA welcomes your comments, however we wish to maintain the decorum appropriate to a taxpayer-funded organisation, we will moderate, and delete as necessary, comments deemed inappropriate. Failure to adhere to these guidelines may result in the author(s) being blocked from this page without notice," it says in a cat-free early post.

"Do not post graphic, obscene, sexually explicit or racially offensive comments or content. We also will not tolerate comments that are abusive, hateful, slanderous or that are intended to defame anyone or any organisation. All content must be unclassified. Do not post any content that may be considered classified, sensitive, or that would cause immediate and undue harm to a person or organisation."

FBI gets confused on pot-smoking hackers stance

22 May 2014

Cannabis plant

Sneak was reasonably excited this week. He heard that the FBI would possibly be interested in hiring ‘stoner' hackers and immediately recognised an opportunity to clear out some rooms in his bedsit.

Yesterday, having walked through a fug of smoke to his ‘home office' Sneak read on the BBC that the FBI was facing up to a skills shortage that could possibly only be filled by the tie-dye munchie brigade. Reasonably confused, thanks to the local atmosphere, we was consoled to see that it was the FBI's director, James Comey who proposed the far-out motion.

"I have to hire a great workforce to compete with those cybercriminals, and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview," he was reported as saying at an event attended by the Wall Street Journal.

The Beeb reports that Comey was pushed on this by an attendee who asked whether a bud head 'friend' should apply for a position at the FBI. "He should go ahead and apply," he said.

The comments were surprising as the FBI usually has a no-drugs-in-the-system-for-at-least-three-years hiring policy, something of a hindrance to those who enjoy the odd doobie.

However, the headlines the comments elicited has prompted something of a turnaround from the Feds as Corney later said he was joking, a classic symptom  of pot smoking. We do not know if he added, ‘Maaaaan...'.

It reported that during a Senate hearing Corney went further, adding, "I don't want young people to use marijuana. It's against the law. I did not say that I'm going to change that ban. I said I have to grapple with the change in my workforce."

It ain't easy being green.

John McAfee: The reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated

10 Sep 2013


Sneak was alarmed to read that his favourite travel blogger and security expert John McAfee is no longer of this earth.

Thank the antivirus heavens then that reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Sneak knows this because he has seen the proof and read the evidence. He is looking at a picture of McAfee – and two canine friends – now, and you can take it from us, this is no Weekend at Bernie's style jape.

McAfee, who has carved out a niche as an on-the-run virus expert to watch, has tweeted the proof himself.

"I felt fine when I went to bed last night. I had such great plans. ‘RIP John McAfee'," he said.

"For those wondering if im dead the answer is... 'The Media is killing me, but somehow im still tweeting" #NotDeadYet," he posted.

The more keen-eyed among us might notice the expression on the darker dog's face. Let's assume it's all in good fun.

While he was "dead" McAfee was the subject of an online report that claimed he had died after a cocaine binge in a casino.

Sneak was stunned to hear this – since it does not sound true to form for his security hero – and almost updated a McAfee subscription in celebration after hearing he was indeed alive and well.

McAfee has added another update. Having completed his daily check he is happy to assure us that, thankfully, all is still in working order.

Government COO goes to dangerous lengths to prove PC boot up claims

12 Jun 2013

Like many wage slaves, Sneak has a morning routine that involves nipping off to make a cuppa while waiting for the office PC to boot up. But while this strikes Sneak as a bit of productive time management and multi-tasking, Sneak was shocked by V3 revelations of the IT woes that befall many civil servants. Apparently, Whitehall workers have time to cook and eat a full English before their computers are ready to use.

But not everybody was so shocked. Indeed, one Daily Telegraph columnist sniffed that her sources had cast doubt on the claims made by Stephen Kelly, the government's chief operating officer, that it takes him seven minutes to boot his computer.

Clearly Kelly is not one to let such slights pass without comment. So on Wednesday he got colleagues to video him logging on to his laptop and posted the results on YouTube. However, by Thursday the video had been removed, no doubt after Kelly was taken to task by his seniors for posting a video showing his PC logins, and yet again criticising public sector IT.

For those with more pressing things to do with their time than watch seven minutes 18 seconds of inactivity, Sneak can provide an abridged version: it took more than three minutes before Kelly could log in, and a further four minute pass while his personal account is loaded. Meanwhile, his iPad is timing the log on attempt.

“The iPad's losing the will to live,” he notes at one point. We feel its pain, we feel its pain.

So in many ways, it's good to see that Whitehall mandarins have a good grasp on the IT issues affecting their users. However, Sneak looks forward to the day they have similar levels of awareness over the wisdom of videoing inputting your log credentials to highly sensitive government computer systems and posting it on the internet.

Previous 1 3

About IT Sneak's undercover reporter offers odds and ends from the odd end of technology.

IT Network Support

Ifyou are an experienced IT NetworkSupport person who...

Senior Java Developer - Spring / Struts / Hibernate - Glasgow

Senior Java Developer - Spring / Struts / Hibernate...

3rd line supoort - Enterprise Mobility Management

Infrastructure Analyst/ 3rd line supoort- Enterprise...

Wintel Engineer

A Wintel Engineer is required to support the Sunderland...

Browse posts by date

Cal_navigation_previousJanuary 2015Cal_navigation_next